An Interview with Paudie Butler, GAA National Hurling Co-ordinator
Paudie Butler, GAA’s National Hurling Co-ordinator
(by Diarmuid Ó Gallchobhair)
I met the GAA’s new National Hurling Co-ordinator in his home near The Ragg in County Tipperary, not too many miles from Semple Stadium.
Paudie Butler played at all levels for Tipperary. He played for and coached Drom-Inch and coached other clubs, such as Newport, Moneygall, Doon and Silvermines. He coached the Tipp Minors to three Munster Championships and the Tipp U21 Team. Most recently he managed the Laois senior hurlers.
“I started down this road almost by accident about ten years ago, when I went to train as a tutor. I got into the whole learning thing very enthusiastically”. Between that and coaching various teams, when this job came up he was ready for it.
It’s been a hectic start, since he took up the position in June. “I’ll spend a lot of time this year taking development squads and coaches for sessions. It’s important to prepare properly and to be highly organised. It’s also vital to be in good form and good-humoured. We need to impress upon coaches the benefits of being positive. A large part of my role is to support the development of players in the broadest possible sense.
“People like Liam O’Neill of the Leinster Council should be complimented for structures that have been put in place since January,” says Butler “It has had a tremendous effect and has made a huge difference already. It’s fantastic that hurling boards and mentors now have full-time people available to them to offer assistance, advice and resources. We’re now in the era of expertise. The challenge for today’s coach is to recognise the needs of players and to set up proper routines to give them the required technical skills. We must remove the “Myth and Magic” syndrome. All players can learn the necessary skills.
“We must also ensure coaches enjoy their role. We shouldn’t be merely about winning. Neither is it simply about production. We’re an amateur sport and the expression of ourselves as Irish people through the game is important. Insofar as children are concerned, we must match the game to their development stage and ensure we provide an enjoyable experience for them. We need to think carefully about how we do this. For example, should we focus young kids on ground hurling as a skill to learn first? This is one of the hardest things to do in hurling, so should we be trying to get them to pick this up to start with?”
The task is significant. “We must remember that hurling, like any small ball game, is difficult to learn well - and difficult to coach. We’re living in a world where people want to learn fast - a challenge for hurling, as it needs longer incubation before a player is good at it. It’s not like going into McDonalds! Patience is needed. So we need to stress the long term aspect of what we’re doing.”
Even in the longer term will any more than two or three teams ever have a chance of winning an All Ireland? “I think it’s realistic to expect maybe ten teams to be seriously competing for the All Ireland. If you look at most sports, like soccer in England or Italy and so on, they only have a couple of teams competing for top honours.”
One of the main challenges facing the game today is to get a proper calendar sorted out. “We’re trying to accommodate hurling, football, club and county. Dates are therefore very scarce. Senior club hurling is the basis of the whole game but lots of players are not getting a decent club campaign. They need a clear calendar of fixtures. Players should be getting at least twenty games a season.
“I think the game itself is fine, despite what you sometimes read. Hurling’s very popular. For example, ten years ago there was only one hurley maker in Wexford. Now there are ten - and they can’t keep up with demand! However, I think there’s an opportunity, particularly with the championship quarter-finals, to use the extra capacity of Croke Park to increase the profile further, especially among juveniles and families. Although we had fine crowds of over 40,000 at the quarter-finals, this does leave lots of opportunity to use our fantastic national stadium to market the game more.”
The new Hurling Co-ordinator also believes technology should be used to help us appreciate and teach the motion and finer details of the game more. If the intricate skills of the Careys and Kelly’s are missed they can’t be replicated by coaches and Butler believes high speed cameras can assist. This will help coaches appreciate and understand the skills of top level players more. Hurling is like a dance form, he suggests, and the choreographer - the coach - needs to go into every intricate movement of the form in order to be able to teach them. It’s also important that we have the right training facilities. The Government is interested in backing all-weather facilities and hurling walls, to enhance winter training conditions. Indeed, the Minister for Sports is providing a Million Euro this year for this purpose. Croke Park will also be contributing funds.
What about the game in the Capital? The challenges of developing hurling are different in Dublin. For example, Longford only has seventy nine 14 year olds in the whole county. Dublin might have that number in one street. This is a measure of the task and the difficulty of applying a consistent approach to the challenge. “But Dublin kids are better tutored, more skilled technically than before. This has been partly brought about by the new breed of coach in Dublin, young, smart, well-educated and driven. But this isn’t unique to Dublin. The likes of James O’Connor of Clare and Shane Flanagan (Longford and Louth) are the great hope for hurling. These guys have fire and vision. They won’t be deterred.”
The change in Dublin is remarkable, believes Butler. “I met a Wicklow man once who thought hurling wasn’t allowed in Dublin and was only for country people. Dubliners were made to feel ignorant about the game”. How things have changed! Butler believes a miracle is about to happen. Dublin now has the systems, the coaches and a new level of sophistication - the pieces of the jigsaw are in place. Paudie sees Crokes as a good example of a Dublin club heading in the right direction. “I was very impressed with the number of good quality mentors and coaches at a recent session I had there. The Féile win last year is another good omen, as well as recent Colleges and Under 21 successes. I saw the Dublin Minors recently and felt they were as good as any team in Ireland. They’re excellently managed and have bonded like a club team.”
Paudie feels that the Seven’s Festival is as important as the All Ireland itself. “It adds enormously to the ambience of the weekend, as it gives hurling people an opportunity to get together with their soul mates. If we only race to Croke Park on All Ireland day to take our seats, watch the game and then race back home again, it’s a bit like shopping in Aldi’s! The Seven’s gives us an excellent opportunity to extend the hurling experience.”
Paudie says he’s enjoying every minute of his new role, every puck of every game, every session. Go n-éirí go geal leis!