How Dublin are moulding the next generation
WHEN Dave Berry and Nathan Nugent made their documentary ‘The Dubs: Story of a season’, the film ended up with an unlikely star.
Berry and Nugent followed Paul Caffrey’s team through their 2005 campaign, which ended with defeat after a replay to Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
But what lingered in the mind was something that happened in the Leinster semi win over Wexford, and its aftermath.
Corner-back Stephen O’Shaughnessy had a history of shoulder problems.
One serious injury in 2002 saw him sidelined for two years.
But, in 2005, he was flying and marking PJ Banville.
Six minutes after half-time, O’Shaughnessy made a lunging dive for the ball and his shoulder popped out.
“I was carted straight off to the hospital. When I got there, I think it was 10 minutes into the second half,’’ he explains in ‘The Dubs’.
“There was a group of nurses around and I asked them did they know the score.
“One of them said ‘Dublin are losing by two points. We’re now going to knock you out and put your shoulder back in’.
“I woke up at 8.30pm that evening and hadn’t a clue who’d won the game.
“I remember just sitting in the cubicle in the hospital screaming ‘who won the fucking match?’’’
Dublin had come through by four points and, remarkably, O’Shaughnessy managed to get himself fit for the Leinster final.
That was a cue for a speech from Caffrey two days before the game.
“Shocko, you epitomise the spirit in this team. Best of luck on Sunday. You’re a fucking smashing young fella.”
The smashing young fella finished the year with an All Star nomination, but his injury problems took their toll and he gradually drifted out of contention.
Yet Stephen O’Shaughessy is no bit-part player in the Dublin story.
When the reasons for Dublin’s resurgence are put forward, O’Shaughnessy is always given credit by those with their finger on the pulse.
Since 2006, he has been a full-time employee of the County Board, and oversees the development squads that first gather players together at Under-13 level and work with them up to minor.
It’s a baking hot Sunday morning on Alfie Byrne Road and O’Shaughnessy is busy at work on the all weather pitches.
Four batches of Under-13s are being put through their paces at once, with new Under-13 manager Jason Sherlock taking notes on a clipboard.
O’Shaughnessy pauses from placing cones for drills to shoot the breeze.
“I’ve been involved since 2006. I came in with the Under-14s under Dessie Farrell,’’ he said.
“That was the group with Ciaran Kilkenny, Cormac Costello and Paul Mannion.
“They’d have stood out straightaway because of their skill, balance and being able to kick reasonably well with both feet.
“I’ve seen guys who were six foot at 13 and the mechanics wasn’t there because they’d grown so fast.
“But you’d still persist with them because it tends to sort itself out by 15 or 16, and growth spurts stop as well.
“Then you have the opposite — small, light guys but you wouldn’t dismiss them because of that. You’d go purely on their technical skills.
“That’s why we did a little test this morning on the left and right side of the players. You get to see a lot in that.”
What is striking about Sherlock’s Under-13 set-up is the calibre of the people he has with him.
Seven men who played for Dublin in the past 15 years are involved.
“On the northside, you have David Henry, who would have captained Dublin,’’ he said.
“There’s Declan Lally, who played for Dublin. Ger Gleeson, who coached with Lucan, is involved as is Brendan O’Brien, who I played with forDublin during Tommy Carr’s time as manager.
“On the southside, we have Paul Griffin, who captained Dublin.
“Paul Casey, who played for Dublin for years, is there. So too is Ray Boyne, who did the stats for Dublin for a long time.
“Jim Lehane is part of the mix too. He coaches at Kilmacud.
“I was delighted that, when I rang them up, they were keen to get involved.
“It just shows what Dublin football means to them that giving up their time wasn’t an issue.
“It’s a model that Dublin have used — getting past players involved — and I’m just delighted with the quality of people we have.
“I had a few enquiries from clubs and counties to get involved in a coaching capacity, but none of them fitted.
“I met Stephen O’Shaughnessy, and really liked what the vision is, how they’re trying to develop the underage academies.
“It was a great opportunity for me to get involved with Dublin again, and with guys who I’ve played with over the years.”
One of the biggest buzzes for O’Shaughnessy is seeing unlikely lads come through from the back of the pack.
“You have to be extremely open-minded. Guys can come into the development squad at any age,’’ he said.
“We have guys that were in at Under-13, went back to their clubs for two or three years and come back in at minor.
“Even some have come back in at Under-21. Brian Fenton of Raheny springs to mind.
“He was in the development squad up to Under-16. Was in the minor squad but didn’t start. Then he started an All-Ireland final for the 21s.”
Sherlock is equally open-minded, using his own experience as proof of how players develop.
“I genuinely believe that any 12-year-old can play inter-county football,’’ he said.
“When I was that age, I wasn’t the strongest, wasn’t the fastest, couldn’t kick off my weaker side, and I played for Dublin.
“The intention is that you go through the years — Under-13, Under-14 and so on up to minor.
“That’s what Dessie did. He went on to Under-21 after that.
“It’s great to be able to get insights from Dessie because he’s been through the whole process.
“One thing you can’t do is close the net and have x amount of players at Under-13 and go with them to Under-21.
“We all develop at different ages, so we always have to keep the net open, and let people come in and out.”
DUBLIN try and give every talented young player a chance to shine, according to Jason Sherlock.
“Every club was invited to send 10 players out for the Under-13s,’’ he said.
“So 47 clubs sent 10. That was 470. Clubs that didn’t have 10 were able to bring in three or four, so it was the guts of 500.
“It’s not necessarily a trial, more an opportunity for us to give kids an idea of what it’s like to be involved with Dublin GAA.
“There’s a panel from Under-14 — on the northside and southside — but we try and keep the net as wide as we’re allowed.
“We would be keeping the competition element — the winning and losing — to a minimum as well.
“They get too much of that, particularly in the Feile year, which has just gone overboard.
“We’ll be encouraging the values of the game, the skills of the game, rather than the winning and losing.
“We had the blitzes, and then had the skill sessions. We had nearly 500 out in UCD one Sunday.
“It’s very hard to pick one guy over another at this age.
“What do you look for? A guy who has a physical advantage, or a guy who has all the skills of the game and might develop better?
“So it’s a massive challenge. We are looking for skill-based players and guys that can think on the pitch.
“We’re looking for those things, and looking to improve those things.”
DUBLIN have plenty of two-footed players in the senior team and, according to Stephen O’Shaughnessy, a lot of emphasis is put on this atdevelopment squad level.
“The main thing we focus on between 13 and 16 is their weaker side,’’ he said.
“Our idea is not to develop teams at this age-group, but to develop individuals.
“We’re looking to find the best 30 or 40 guys and develop them over a three or four year period, in terms of their skill development.
“Their physical development doesn’t really start until minor.
“A bit of light conditioning starts when they’re 16 and a half but it’s body weight stuff, press-ups and so on.
“A guy like Ciaran Kilkenny was physically developed at 16 and would have been able to lift weights.
“But someone like Cormac Costello wasn’t, so you have to hold back.
“The blitzes are run as seven-a-side and they’re playing with their own clubmates so they’re familiar with them.
“Because they’re small-sided games, they get far more touches so it’s more skills orientated than anything else.
“From the blitzes, you liaise with the club mentors for the trial days.
“The whole idea of the Under-13 year is that it’s a trial year.
“Our objective is to see as many guys as possible.
“It’s continual assessment. We have trials every year — at Under-14, Under-15, all the way up.”