Interview with Paudie Butler

Paudie Butler, GAA National Director of Hurling will be launching the All-Ireland U16 Hurling Championship sponsored by Tipperary
Supporters Club in the County Tipperary Golf and Country Club in Dundrum on Fri day at 6pm during our annual fundraising Golf Classic. 

Read this interesting interview from the Irish Independant


By Cliona Foley

Wednesday May 12 2010

IN A SCENE that wouldn’t look out of place in ‘Father Ted’, Paudie Butler is drinking tea and getting fiercely excited by a wall.

"Look at that wall out there, fantastic wall!" he enthuses from the Sarsfields clubhouse in Newbridge, after completing a training session with the Kildare U-14 hurling development squad, their three coaches and many of their club mentors.

It is explained that the accidental ‘hurling wall’ that runs down the side of the Sarsfield’s practice pitches came about courtesy of the Department of Defence’s adjacent new buildings.

"Really?" he exclaims. "Well, that’s the best wall in Ireland! Wouldn’t you love, Tadhg, to get a hundred children out there on that wall, two to a ball?"

Tadhg Fennin, the former county footballer and now one of four full-time coaching and games officers employed by Kildare, has been ferrying Butler around for most of the day.

You will find few more enthusiastic assistants than Fennin but, by 9.0 that evening, even the Castlemitchells man is flagging and can only grin and nod in agreement.

Stalling Paudie’s enthusiasm, even at this hour, is about as effective as swinging a hurl at a runaway JCB.

You might get those who’d reply, "Jaysus man, get a grip, it’s only a wall," but you’d want to be a terrible begrudger to argue with Paudie when he’s in full flow about hurling because, for one, Paudie’s one of the loveliest men in Ireland, with not a cynical bone in his body.

And, secondly, no one in his sport is more enthusiastic than Paudie, and that includes legendary GAA zealots like Liam ‘Riverdance’ Griffin and Mick ‘Sure I’m addicted!’ O’Dwyer.

Few on the GAA’s coaching side are as well-qualified or gifted either.

It was no surprise when the primary school principal from the Drom-Inch club in Tipperary was appointed as the GAA’s first national hurling co-ordinator in 2006.

Some, wrongly, expected him to magic up an immediate cure-all for hurling’s ills. They imagined that this was the man who’d have the secret formula to quickly turn Roscommon, say, into Galway-beaters.

But senior inter-county standards and championship structures don’t consume the former Laois senior manager, because his priority and speciality is the manufacture of hurling’s building blocks: proper coaches.

Paudie is hurling’s grassroots evangelist, taking the gospel of the GAA’s games development unit out to volunteers and professional coaches in every corner of the country.

He certainly earns his Croke Park pay cheque.

He has come from Waterford and it’s Kildare for the next two days. It is 9.0 on a Thursday night and he has just finished his fifth coaching session of the day.

He started with two sessions in a primary school in Clane, then one in Newbridge College and another with the Sarsfield’s juveniles.

He was completely oblivious to the fact that Newbridge College (alma mater of Ireland rugby stars Jamie Heaslip and Geordan Murphy) was an oval-ball stronghold. All Paudie saw were children with their faces and hurls upturned to him, little sponges ready to soak up his hurling wisdom.

"I’m not joking, he’s even more into it now than he was when he started this morning," observed Fennin, as Paudie launched into his final coaching session of the day, a human whirlwind of staccato delivery and excitement.

To see him in full flow would raise Ringy from the grave. He has an eye like no other and can spot technical errors from 50 paces.

One glance at these Kildare kids confirms that their stance and swing is all angles and elbows — the sworn enemies of hurling.

"Look at Kilkenny, even a tall fella like Henry (Shefflin), they’re round," he says, stressing the final word.

"They’re completely round in their shape and position and that’s partly why you can’t get at them, or at the ball.

"In the weaker counties, even at inter-county level, you notice the body position immediately," he says. "They’re up straight, all leggy and angular. Sure all a fella has to do is give them a push and they’re over!"

So he starts on basics: bending the knees and hips, widening the stance, shortening the grip, getting the children, vitally, to turn within their own space.

Three lengths of rope — with sliothars threaded through them at regular intervals — are staked into the ground and within minutes he has the youngsters tearing up and down them, pulling right and left, often hitting ‘fresh airs’.

He is kind and warm but not an easy task master on his guinea pigs.
These are the best U-14s in Kildare so he drives them, so hard and fast that sometimes their little legs can’t keep up. And when they fall flat on their faces trying to hit a ball at full tilt, that’s when Paudie’s happiest of all.

"Savage! Savage! There’s a super athlete there, good boy, good boy!" he roars. "Let no one give out to that boy, he’s running fastest and taking risks and that’s what we want."

‘Speed, power and accuracy!’ is Paudie’s mantra.

"You can have one of them, boys, you can even have two, but if you haven’t all three it’ll be no good in Croke Park!" he shouts.

Later they initially struggle, and then dramatically improve, on a rapid-fire shooting drill against the club’s improvised hurling wall, where his emphasis on doing everything at full pelt doesn’t let up.

"You don’t have to look good boys, you just have to bury it!" he exclaims. "Wouldn’t Joe Canning have buried that twice by now?"

Their sheepish grins agree but, noticeably, half way through an all-drills session, many of them are panting.

Now, these are not unfit or overweight teenagers, they are simply used to practising within their comfort zone. But Paudie regards ‘comfort zone’ as two of the dirtiest words in the English language.

Practising everything at high tempo and under pressure replicates match conditions and that, he stresses to their coaches, is how you make progress in this most complex of sports.

"Half the problem is the adults, they don’t challenge children. Treat them like eejits and they’ll act like eejits, but once you start having expectations, they’ll deliver!" he assures them.

Paudie’s colourful turn of phrase — "they’ll keep going like blind greyhounds!" — raises the odd snigger from the mentors, not to mention his many aphorisms.

"They’re not bad boys, coaches! They’re just addicted to bad habits and when a boy is addicted to bad habits he can’t hear anything!" is a classic Paudie-ism.

It is likely that some of these coaches are not complete devotees of the ‘Go-Games’, the GAA’s official underage philosophy that was made compulsory in all U-12 competition at Congress recently.

In this blitz-style, small-game format, everyone gets to play but no one keeps the score. Go-Games are the antithesis of the win-hungry mentality that is the scourge of good under-age coaching, yet some feel that Paudie and Co have veered too far in the opposite direction.

Indeed one of the visiting coaches privately confesses: "If I got the man who invented Go Games, I’d take a hurley to him! My young fella hates them!"

That remains the sort of hard-line opposition that still faces Preacher Paudie, three and a half years into his messianic hurling mission, yet he remains as zealous and resolute as ever.

But how does he know it’s working? He points to the fact that every county in Ireland now has an U-14 and U-16 hurling development squad.
Some, like Kildare, also have one at U-15.

"It’s all about the linkage between clubs and schools and the GAA. Every single county now has a games manager co-ordinating all of that."

He sees excellent under-age systems in the most unusual places. Wexford, yes, no surprise, but Armagh, he says, "have gone about their hurling business in a very good way."

"And Westmeath, actually, have produced a really high-quality minor team this year."

How many days a week is he out proselytising?

"Ah, six or seven, depends. The demand is huge and when it’s there, sure you must commit to the volunteers.

"My contract is until April 2011 and I don’t think I’ll continue doing it full-time," he reveals.

"I never envisaged being as busy as it is, but sure, when it’s put up to you, you do it, don’t you? Now, which road do I take to get back to Dublin?"

And he’s off on a trail that will take him from Kerry directly to Mayo in the following days, a one-man, 24/7 hurling road-show that leaves everyone in his wake giddy with enthusiasm and delight.

He’s only there for another year — catch him while you can.

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