Wexford GAA have called on Sport Ireland to increase funding for games promotion officers. County chair Micheál Martin was speaking at the remote launch of a five-year strategic plan for Gaelic games in the county.
The ambitious proposals envisage developing the centre of excellence in Ferns, building an overdue 4G pitch in the county, recruiting 50 per cent more GPOs, from 10 to 15 by 2025 and enrolling 500 children per year in the VIP (Very Important Player) Programme.
This will offer a quality sporting experience to children with special educational needs who may find it difficult to successfully participate on mainstream sports teams.
“The one point I’d make in terms of games development funding,” said Martin, “first of all, I don’t think we get enough off Sport Ireland. I’ve a GPO that comes to our school and the service that is provided by 750-odd games promotion officers around the country – I think Sport Ireland should be providing additional funding to the GAA for the service that has provided and I don’t think we should be behind the doors in calling for that.”
Asked how robust the funding would be for the €5 million infrastructure proposal in the current circumstances, he was upbeat.
“I realise there are financial challenges for people and businesses but we have developed a fundraising plan that will deliver, certainly our Centre of Excellence, a 4G pitch and not impact on our coaching and player development programme in terms of more GPOs etc.”
There is also planned a development programme to be steered by a high-performance committee, which includes well-known Wexford sports personalities, including Team USA boxing coach Billy Walsh, Queens Park Rangers coach and former London football manager Ciarán Deely, Declan Browne (IT Carlow), Fionn MacPartlin (Team GB).
Martin also confirmed that after last year’s successful staging of split county championships, the hurling would again go first with football to follow. He was asked if that might leave the eventual hurling champions at a disadvantage in the provincial championships.
“We put it to the clubs and we had 80 per cent voted for a split season with hurling first. I chaired the debate and I did flag that. I said there is a potential here that you’d be waiting anywhere from six to 10 weeks for a provincial championship and that was the result.”
Also present at the launch was new football manager Shane Roche, who filled in, in a caretaker capacity, after the departure of Paul Galvin last summer. He said that his preferred format when the intercounty football championship is discussed at a future special congress would be for the combined league and championship option.
“We would be still pushing a league format where we can get games. We have a very young panel so for these guys to be exposed to week-on-week competitive action at high levels is key. The league format, the Leinster championship and then the Tailteann Cup (proposed Tier 2 championship) to be playing competitive games in hopefully warm weather. It is days like that that kids want to see.”
Roche, a veteran of Wexford’s Leinster football finals against Dublin in 2008 and 2011, is a PE teacher at St Peter’s and spoke about the impact of lockdown on children.
“Since we’ve come back in February, I’ve implemented more mindfulness and yoga because they are maybe finding being locked down in houses without games, without sport a lot more stressful. That’s an area you have to be cognisant of, is their wellbeing. That’s key.”
Wexford hurling joint-captain – and former county footballer – Matthew O’Hanlon, also in attendance, agreed with Roche’s priorities when assessing his own championship formats: essentially, more games in the still experimental provincial round-robin, which was played in 2018 and ’19 before having to be suspended last year.
“From the perspective of you being guaranteed you have four top-quality championship games, which you were not guaranteed before that – before that you would get your one knock-out and background qualifier, so minimum you would get is two.
“But I do think that in a round-robin format the most deserving team is going to win. It eliminates freak results. One big team is knocked out [in sudden death] and then they are gone. Over the course of the four games you will find out your eventual deserved winner.”