Hurling told to fall in line

“Hurling people feel everything happening with Croke Park is football-orientated.”
Hurling told to fall in line

From the reaction to Mike Fitzgerald’s words in this newspaper Saturday, there are many who agree with the former Limerick and Munster treasurer.

“The GAA has become totally football orientated,” commented Máirtin Ó Riain.

“Totally agree, not enough being done to promote hurling,” wrote David Keating from Cork. “You can get no better sport than hurling...”

Feidlím Ginty said: “I’m more of a football player ’cause I’m Mayo but my mother’s Galway and I love playing hurling. I completely agree with this view but it’s sort of the natural order.”

It would be ignorant not to mention the efforts made by GAA director of games development Pat Daly, hurling development committee chairman Paudie O’Neill and now national hurling development manager Martin Fogarty in spreading the love of hurling. However, when another man on the ground like Fitzgerald is so moved to speak his mind then those words must be heeded.

It doesn’t help the perception is hurling has been an after-thought in composing a new fixtures calendar. In recent times, the GAA has seen fit to make next to no changes in the scheduling of the hurling championship. Yet to accommodate GAA director Páraic Duffy’s new football championship structure and a calendar season, first recommended by the Football Review Committee, hurling has to fall in line.

“Why would a football document condense the hurling championship?” asked Cork secretary Frank Murphy in October.

Munster secretary Simon Moroney followed that up in his annual report: “I fear that taking some key hurling championship games away from the traditional times may diminish the relative importance of hurling.”

Moroney was referring to Duffy’s plan to condense the Munster SHC with the final in mid-June as opposed to the second Sunday in July. At the very least, optically the GAA have framed this fixture overhaul poorly. At the core of it is a new format for the senior football championship but to present it as merely as “a football championship proposal document” doesn’t tell the whole story.

When it was launched in August, GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail may have been better advised to be pictured holding a hurley along with a football. Because Duffy’s well-reasoned determination to end replays and bringing forward each of the All- Ireland finals by two weeks into August - which are included in the plan - affect hurling too. As does the calendar year, for which these proposals Duffy hopes will provide the gateway.

“We can’t separate football and hurling fixtures, it’s just not possible,” explained Ó Fearghail in November, echoing Duffy’s defence a month earlier. “You can’t put a proper club county fixtures programme separate one from the other. The two are absolutely linked.”

Of course they are, but why wasn’t it sold that way? For a piece of work labelled as a football document, Duffy’s plan affects no other province more than Munster as no other province is committed to both codes. He accepts it will impact on dual counties more so than anybody else – “condensing the championship under the new proposal, along with the 13-day rule, could rule out most weekends for club championship fixtures as long as the county remains involved in one or both championships.

However, the amount of guaranteed time available after elimination will increase, allowing all counties time to complete their club championships in August, September and October.” Some counties must reassess their championship formats and attain a better club-county fixture balance to achieve that target but, even at that, Duffy’s recommendation for all county championships to be finished by the first Sunday in October is optimistic.

In light of the recent difficulties Tipperary and Waterford have had in fielding representatives in the provincial club championships, Duffy’s words will offer cold comfort. A county’s All-Ireland success has regularly had a negative effect on its club fixtures but when it is a dual county it is amplified. Should those who are most devoted to football and hurling be punished as a result or, as we mentioned previously, will more of their clubs and players have to prioritise one game over the other?

There is no question Duffy’s proposals are primarily fuelled by a determination to make life that bit easier for clubs and club players. But there are obvious financial reasons too. A graph included in the document shows that, without replays, football championship attendances last year were at their lowest since before the introduction of the qualifiers. Replacing All-Ireland quarter-finals with two round robin groups from next year on would arrest that trend. Hurling knows it’s on the hind tit. It has been reluctantly dragged by football before and seen its league format altered by predominantly football counties against the wishes of some of the game’s most prominent hurling counties. Next month’s Congress may just be the occasion when it decides to bites back.

Apathy reigns supreme in O’Byrne Cup

You can imagine the DCU faces in Belfield on Sunday when UCD manager John Divilly whipped off Colm Basquel in the second half of the O’Byrne Cup and chose not to replace him. All teams in the competition have been permitted unlimited substitutes but Divilly chose to finish out the game numerically disadvantaged. This came after he had made five half-time changes having led by one point at the break.

The decision not to put on another player for Basquel was within the rules but said so much about UCD’s indifference to reaching the semi-finals of the competition having previously beaten Dublin and drawn with Wexford, not to mention their determination to keep their Sigerson Cup rivals guessing. As Divilly said in these pages 12 months ago, the college’s presence in the competition is of little consequence to him.

The attitude of All-Ireland champions Dublin, runners-up Mayo and Donegal towards this month’s competitions has been extremely loose and other counties have treated the games as little else but an organised series of challenges. That is their prerogative but when teams like Kildare and Louth are treating it seriously it can become a charade.

Then there are the colleges who have shown they have no place playing in January competitions: GMIT’s abysmal one-point total against Sligo; IT Carlow’s one-point total against Kildare being cases in point. Maybe Munster were right to keep their competitions counties-only.

A new era for the GPA

Today’s appointment of Dermot Earley as GPA chief executive will be well-received in most areas. It was left to Dessie Farrell to conduct a lot of the aggravation in the organisation’s formative years but Earley will be expected to take a more subtle approach.

His ascension comes at a time when there are two public views of the GPA: one sees the players body as having done an excessively good financial deal with the GAA; the other regards them as having been subsumed by Croke Park with a GAA member on their financial committee. Earley is affable but he may have to show he is not averse to biting the hand that feeds his organisation. Their ignored football championship plan and the rise of the Club Players Association will have to be addressed.

What the GPA has done for their members in need on a discreet basis is mightily impressive. The support networks for the country’s best footballers and hurlers are phenomenally strong but there remains an image issue. The amount of money they initially sought from the Government in grants was incredible. How Colm O’Rourke was targeted a number of years back by an orchestrated social media campaign was cynical. Their tweets espousing their good deeds lack the human touch.

Farrell, all the same, has left a solid legacy, but Earley has a hefty in-box.

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