Spending an afternoon interviewing Martin Fogarty turned out to be one enlightening conversation. I’m not sure who did the interviewing – Martin or me! You can take the man out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the man. Is that why after spending 35 years as a Principal of Firoda National School, the Castlecomer native is coaching coaches up and down the country as our National Hurling Development Manager with the GAA?
Martin Fogarty was born and reared in Castlecomer. He left for the bright lights of Dublin to start his teaching career at 21 in St. Oliver Plunket’s NS in Finglas where the late Bishop Laurence Forristal was the school manager and later to become a very good friend. He returned home for a short stint in his own primary School, the Boys School in Castlecomer before moving out the road a few miles to take up the Principalship of Firoda N.S. This was a Principalship with a difference as it was a one Teacher School and a daunting task for Martin at the young age of 24. With tongue in cheek Martin remarked that “I had a brilliant staff – best staff I ever worked with”. He worked in that school for 35 years up until three years ago, when he was appointed the National Hurling Development Manager.
Martin has hurling running through his veins and says himself that he started hurling as soon as he could walk and still enjoys a few pucks! He played for his own club Erin’s Own Castlecomer for many years winning very little if anything but getting huge enjoyment from the game. He went on to train and manage teams at all ages in his beloved club. He was asked to manage the Kilkenny Under 21 team in 2003 and after some consideration agreed to do so. Little did he realise at the time the 11-year odyssey that was about to start as they went on to win back to back All-Irelands.
Brian Cody came calling in 2005 and following a defeat to Galway that year the Golden Years of Kilkenny hurling commenced. Martin went on to be involved as a selector/coach reaching seven senior All-Irelands and winning six of them including the famed 4-in-1-row. Martin heaps much of the praise for all that success at the feet of his good friend and Laois man Michael Dempsey. Mick never picked up a hurl in his life, he said and was helping out with football coaching in Castlecomer. “I saw what he had and persuaded him to get involved with the U-21’s with myself, Tom Doheny, Freshford, Tom O’ Hanlon, Mooncoin and Tommy Bawle Dicksboro. The rest is history and I am certain that had he declined, which he tried to do, that my history and indeed Kilkenny hurling history would be short several chapters.”
Martin is a proud father of Damien, Aisling and Conor and is married to Angela. They live in the countryside of Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny. Damien and Conor he adds were fortunate enough to be able to do what he could never do himself and that is to represent Kilkenny at all grades. Aisling never took up the camogie and he is fine with that. “I never pushed it” he said and “maybe she is better off. She has never felt that pain and depression we feel when being dumped out of the local championship once again”.
Angela, Martin’s wife was a former badminton county champion in both singles and in doubles with his sister Honoria. She is also a keen runner, “that is where the lads got their skill from” he says.
Here is a glimpse into Martin’s world…
Martin, can you tell me about a day in your life working in the top job in Croke Park, and on the road visiting the hurling clubs around Ireland?
Morning: Firstly, it is a long way off being the top job in Croke Park, but it is probably the best job. I get to meet and work with people that love the game of hurling just like I do. I do not have a typical day so to speak but tend to use mornings for planning work or taking notes on work completed.
Midday: Midday can often be spent travelling or contacting people. I sometimes have meetings or might call in to a few schools if I am out and about.
Evening: Evenings, which often run into late nights are my busiest times. I do quite a few workshops which can be practical, or presentation based. I could be working with coaches, squad teams, county teams or advising clubs or counties on anything from recommended coaching practices to getting the best out of their team or club in hurling terms.
Martin, what does your role as National Hurling Development Manager involve?
It varies. Basically, I have a free rein to develop hurling across 32 counties as I think best. The needs vary from county to county and from club to club. By and large the stronger counties are ok. They are spoiled actually, in hurling terms. They have plenty of players, plenty of clubs and plenty of games. Hurling is popular in these counties also.
However, it is a far different situation in almost half of the country. Games have to be at the core of any sporting organization so if your teams are not playing games there is probably no reason to exist. In order to play games, you need teams. In order to have teams you need players and I suppose in order to have players you need coaches or at least people prepared to look after teams. I try to look at those areas, provide games where there are few, help people to attract more players and form more teams and help to improve the quality of coaching and as a knock-on result, the quality of playing.
How many clubs are in the weaker counties compared to the Liam McCarthy regions?
There are sixteen counties, which is half the country, that have 10 or less clubs that field an adult hurling team. Thirteen of them have eight or less hurling teams and eight of them have five or less. Many of these clubs cannot field at any or all underage levels. If you compare that to how many clubs in Kilkenny field an adult football team you very quickly get the picture.
Kilkenny have 28 clubs that field an adult football team which means they can have meaningful games programs in football at all levels. This is not possible in hurling for the above-mentioned counties. They have too few teams and as a result cannot get enough if any games and many games are unbalanced because they have not enough teams to allow for different grades.
Another issue for the weaker counties is how sparse the clubs are, they can be up to 80 miles apart as in the case of two Donegal teams. This again is a huge obstacle in the promotion of the game.
What is your approach to coaching?
My approach is fairly simple. The game is the most important part of any training session as after all that is why players get involved- to play a game. So, every coaching session should have a game factored in. However, you cannot play the game without the skills so obviously there has to be a huge emphasis on skill work also.
It is really about getting the balance right. There are six essential skills in my view that need to be constantly worked upon. Some people call them “basics”, but that word does not do justice to their importance. They are, Rising & Catching, Hooking & Blocking, Striking & Hand passing. Many teams today, especially county teams do too much unnecessary training, dragging their players together too often for pointless stuff. This leads to loss of appetite and drudgery which is not what sport should be about.
You said coaching is overrated. What do you mean?
Well, I suppose some people like to give the illusion that there is a higher order of thinking that is beyond the ordinary man or woman but really coaching is about allowing your players to play. You don’t have to be a former player to be a coach. You just have to have interest and enthusiasm. That’s not to say aspiring coaches shouldn’t avail of every opportunity to upskill themselves by going on courses and attending games. You certainly do not need an army of people to look after a team which seems to be the growing fashion.
How did you get into coaching?
What is coaching? I don’t know really. I suppose I fell into it from an early age trying to win school and street leagues and sorting out our own teams. Formally, I started coaching when I started teaching and was involved with school and club teams.
You have been the National Hurling Development Manager for three years. Is it a job or a hobby?
It’s a hobby or vocation, just like been a Teacher. I suppose it’s a labour of love. When I am actually “working” I could not class it as work! I suppose getting there and back is the work part, to places like Letterkenny in Donegal, Ballygalget on the Ards Peninsula or Westport in Mayo.
What has been the reaction going into clubs where hurling isn’t their first language or game?
The people involved in clubs in the wilderness of hurling are amazing and brilliant people. It is an honour to be in their presence and observe the work they are doing for the game, day in and day out against all the odds. I cannot honestly say if I lived in some of those places that I would be involved in hurling.
Their commitment is total. They are the true grass roots of the GAA. It is very humbling when as a Kilkenny person (or from any of the successful counties) you see the esteem in which we are held. The reality is that we are just lucky to have been born where we were, and we are no better or worse at coaching than anyone else. I suppose when I get that message and realization across it is a great boost to the people I meet and it makes me happy to see their self-esteem and self-value rise.
In the short term I would like to see more games and competitions for existing clubs in the marginalised counties and long term I would like to see the number of hurling clubs and teams increase in these counties so that they can have meaningful games and competition in their own counties and not have to travel huge distances to get that.
Is it happening? Yes and no. I worry about it as it is such a huge challenge for the organization. It is not down to me personally but to a small amount of people beavering away in different parts of the country. You could have a few juvenile units growing in an area but the adult section in the same area could be in danger of dying away. A good example of progress and worry would be Fermanagh, where there is just one adult hurling team - Lisbellaw. At the same time there are seven juvenile sections growing throughout the county. Keeping that one adult team alive where they have no games in their own county and trying to bring the underage sections up to adulthood is a huge challenge. Cavan, Longford and Leitrim are other examples where there are just two or three adult teams operating.
You are guest speaker at Barrow Rangers county draw on 21st December. What do you think of what this club has achieved in their hopes of turning it into a sports park with first class facilities?
I could not commend Barrow Rangers highly enough for this massif undertaking. It is so easy to sit back and do nothing, but these people have a vision which will greatly benefit future generations of Paulstowns’ youth. Again, it is an example of what the GAA (and other organizations) contribute to the wellbeing of our communities. As I travel the country, I marvel at what volunteers have done to make this country a better place to live in. It takes tremendous leadership, commitment, spirit and in particular team work to make something like this happen. I wish the club and all their supporters the very best in the project and I hope that future generations will never forget the people that are making this happen.
You worked with Brian Cody as a selector and coach with the County Senior Hurlers for nine years. Did ye get on?
Ha, that’s a terrible question to ask someone! NO, we never got on!!!!!!!
Of course, we got on!! He or I or anyone else for that matter were hardly likely to suffer each other for nine years if we didn’t get on. It was easy to get on as we were doing something that we both, and Michael Dempsey, loved. Working with some of the greatest and most dedicated players to ever play the game of hurling and having way more than our share of success was indeed a privilege. There were of course major differences of opinion between us, to put it mildly, regarding “The Village “and “’Comer”. That, however was down to the fact that “Hurling is important, but CLUB is a matter of life and death”
There’s a lot of pressure on GAA stars to be as good as professional athletes these days – with diet and wellbeing thrown into the mix. Are there a lot of sacrifices made by these players?
Our players never regarded themselves as making sacrifices to represent Kilkenny. They looked upon it as a privilege, a choice and something they always wanted to do. If you want to go on holidays, you save up! Is that a sacrifice or a choice? To be a top athlete and to be the best you can be requires not doing certain things because if you do it will curtail your performance, so you decide which side of the bread you want the jam on! Having said that, Kilkenny players were never over trained or overburdened. They looked forward to training. As mentioned earlier there are certainly teams out there that are overcooked and training has become a chore. That is often down to poor management or vested interests and is sad as after all hurling is a sport and sport is supposed to be enjoyable. When it ceases to be enjoyable it is time to pull the plug!
Do you miss teaching?
They were great days, especially when I started in Firoda NS I had 24 children across eight classes in the one room on my own. There was one child in sixth class – Marie and she was my Vice Principal! The older children used to teach the younger ones for me. There were no lights in the school even though there was electricity, no phone and the children went to the well every morning for drinking water. We had to increase the numbers to 36 children to reach the required enrolment for a second teacher. It was great. We had wonderful parents and a truly caring community. The school built up over the years to the vibrant school that it now is. Twenty-five families raised enough money, without any government assistance to build a fine sports hall- the envy of schools ten times the size. Our neighbours Alice & Mick Kennedy RIP donated a field to the school and would not take one pound for it. Another parent used to ferry the children from his area to school in a cow box drawn by a tractor. That was real community. Field days, American Tea Parties, Chicken racing, Fun Cycles and much more. Do I miss it? Of course I do, especially at this time of year when we would all be wound up for the “Christmas Plays”. I would probably have cancelled the senior play about ten times by now trying to keep the children from messing as we worked on various parts but it always worked out on the night and as the parents packed into the hall for the show the children had, as many past pupils mentioned after, “one of the greatest memories of their lives”.
You were an I.T. pioneer in your teaching days, being one of the first to introduce computers to a Primary School in Ireland.
I suppose you could say that, but it all happened by chance also. Back around 1988 we purchased a BBC Master Compact Computer for £640. It was funny because for about three weeks I couldn’t get it to work. I needed a program on a floppy disc, but I had never heard of such a thing as a disc and basically was trying to drive a car with no fuel. Paud O’Reilley, a teacher in Rathdowney smiled as he told me, holding a copy of “Fun School” in his hand that I needed one of these to make it work. A journey began. Anyway a few other schools were interested in computers and I remember the first lessons I gave. We had five teachers looking in on the one little screen. Things moved on and we held a few computer fairs in the school hall where up to 30 schools brought their own computers in on a Sunday and everyone demonstrated something different to each other and to the public. It was true learning and could be classed as the coalface of I.T. I began giving formal courses to other teachers such was the demand and enthusiasm for learning. I was seconded for a while also by the Dept. of Education to deliver courses during the I.T. Revolution.
And a lot of the teachers came on your courses for your wife Angela’s home baking?!
Yes, I thought the courses were fairly popular but in later years was told many times that the Teachers just came along for Angela’s cooking. She used to bake the most delicious pastries and cakes for the tea breaks and as it turned out that was what attracted the Teachers not my teaching prowess! As I.T. developed in schools we had a fully kitted out Computer room in Firoda that even secondary schools did not have. The highlight was being selected as one of 36 Schools Integration Projects (Primary & Secondary) across Ireland for best practice around 2000. Our project was developing a web site and publishing a book on “Coalmining in Castlecomer” This was a wonderful learning experience and again involved the community.
You are also a man well-travelled and a bit of a cowboy at heart!
Due to my involvement with Kilkenny Hurlers and their many successes I was fortunate to enjoy quite a few team holidays and to visit places throughout the world that I would never have had the opportunity to visit otherwise.
I think you are referring to something slightly different! In Firoda School we often raised money for “Bóthar” where a dairy cow is sent out to a needy family in Africa or similar place. This is a wonderful charity and I saw first-hand the work the organization does. A flyer came to the school issuing a challenge to ride a horse around the Cotapaxi Volcano in Equador and at the same time raise some serious funds for Bóthar. In a moment of madness, I decided to give it a shot as I had a method in mind to raise the funds. Bear in mind I am no cowboy but could stay on a horse or more so on a pony as a child growing up. We organized a hurling course to raise the funds, but it was a hurling course with a difference and one which coaches were clamouring to attend. The full Kilkenny team including Brian Cody and Mick Dempsey were the coaches and it was a wonderful occasion. I made it to Equador and back in one piece after telling a few porkies on the application form with regards to my riding prowess to be allowed take part! It would take a book to relay the stories on the trip, suffice to say I knew how a cowboy must feel coming in after a cattle drive. It is great testament to the Kilkenny Hurlers and how they constantly give their time for the benefit of others in that we ran a few more of those coaching courses for a few other needy charities over the years.
Is there anything that people might not know about you?
Plenty but I am not going to tell you!
One thing maybe, I do not drink! I never felt the need to and have got along fine without it. Like the hurlers training, it is absolutely not a sacrifice. I just do not need it. I would love to see a majority of young people deciding not to bother drinking at all rather than the current practice where the majority feel they have to drink for various reasons. The amount of harm done by alcohol is devastating. Hard earned wages squandered, families & friends torn apart, violence and crime not to mention road accidents are just a few of the reasons I would like to see more people choosing not to drink. I would love to see our sports elite, especially GAA players giving the lead but I think, like the Fermanagh, Longford, Cavan and Leitrim hurling people etc. it is paddling against the current with a hole in the boat. However, keep paddling!!.
Martin Fogarty will be the keynote speak at the All County Draw for Barrow Rangers GAA and Camogie Clubs at Gowran Park Racecourse Clubhouse on Saturday 21st December at 8.00 pm.