Hurling in the hinterlands of the tradition

Before the GAA championship begins, a cautionary tale.

Hurling in the hinterlands of the tradition

Before the GAA championship begins, a cautionary tale.

Some years ago, a former intercounty manager known to this column had signed up to help hurling in one of the ‘weaker’ counties, committing to a few Saturdays coaching coaches and so on. Fighting the good fight.

He rang the county board involved but nothing suited the first weekend. He rang again but nothing suited the second weekend.

When he was told nothing suited on the third weekend, he got the message and deleted that contact from his phone.

Fair play to Martin Fogarty, the National Hurling Development Manager, for being persistent in spreading the gospel. I spoke to him last week for a longer piece, but he was talking too much sense not to share some of his views ahead of schedule.

“The big problem for hurling in marginalised counties is the small number of clubs. Within that then you have to get people involved to coach hurling, and the game is not that easy to pick up, the people involved feel they need to know something about the game — which they don’t, but that’s not the point — and the result is that it’s difficult to bring up little units.

“In about 14 counties there are very few clubs, and because of that the games programmes are very limited. The knock-on effect is that young kids don’t see a challenging sports career, particularly if their championship could be run off over two weekends in October.”

There are other challenges. You have to address both ends of the age spectrum at the same time, for instance.

“If you just deal with the older lads then you’re missing out on the foundation, like a senior club that has success but doesn’t work on its underage structures. And if you don’t work on the younger lads then you won’t have the players coming through.”

Fair play to all concerned, then, for facilitating hurling with a couple of common-sense moves. Like wiping away county boundaries.

“We’ve done that to try to establish meaningful competition. That’s where we’re at with the Táin Óg leagues. We have 13s, 15s, to go on to 17s and, hopefully, to set up adult competition next year. You’re taking an area — regardless of counties — which has a certain number of clubs, and setting up a competition for those clubs.

“Travel is an issue, but you can’t do anything about that. We have five- and six-team areas and we organise regional games building towards semi-finals and finals in those areas.”

Contrary to what some hurling-resistant observers might think, there’s an appetite for the game in the area.

“Last year we were hoping to get 12 to 16 clubs in at U13 level, and we got 29 teams in. We ended up with finals in Clones, and the feedback was tremendous. It’s scary in one way, because it’s an organisational minefield, but the buy-in is fantastic.”

Fogarty points to the willingness to work: “If a guy’s job is based in Sligo he doesn’t let that hold him back, he may be looking after a couple of hurling clubs in Leitrim or Longford as well. They’re doing that to spread the game and to facilitate people in playing the game.”

The clubs facilitate each other, too. Fogarty points out that if a team arrives at a venue short one or two, their opponents will match them for numbers to ensure the game goes ahead. Something to bear in mind when you see the stadia heaving with crowds at the height of the championship summer.

Breaking one’s duck

So there is someone listening after all.

Last week you may remember that I mentioned the book The Little Wonder: The Remarkable History of Wisden.

In my mentioning I said that friends of mine were obsessed with cricket, to my “bafflement”, and the good folks at Cricket Ireland were in touch about my state of mind (supply your own pun.) If I was baffled about the game, they said, why not take in a day’s sport and bring clarity where once there was confusion?

I am only too glad to take them up on their offer and will duly attend Ireland versus England next month, parking my bafflement at the door.

Oh by the way, other sports and events I have been baffled by: the international high-diving competitions held annually at Acapulco, Mexico; the next America’s Cup yachting race, due to be held in Auckland, New Zealand; and of course the Super Bowl, which is to be held in Miami next February.

I am open to debafflement on all of these, so feel free to get in touch.

Pat McAuliffe’s way with words

I wasn’t alone in being shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of Pat McAuliffe last week.

The RTÉ reporter was a friendly and supportive presence in press boxes all over Ireland, but particularly in the Cork and Munster region and had a personal touch not shared by everyone.

A few years ago I spent quite a few early Sunday mornings wrangling a couple of instruction-resistant infants along the long seaside promenade by Blackrock Castle, and I often met Pat, out for a brisk early-morning stroll.

There was always a quick chat about whatever event we were heading to later that day before Pat went on his way and yours truly got back to breaking up a loud argument about Peppa Pig.

One afternoon the two of us reconvened in Semple Stadium for a Munster championship game; we were looking at a minor curtain-raiser which suddenly erupted into a keenly contested row.

“Nasty enough,” said one of the more easily offended members of the press.

“Not at all,” said Pat, winking at me.

“I saw rougher on the walk down by Blackrock Castle this morning.”

Rest easy.

A Working title

This is not the first time I have bored everyone here with Robert Caro references, so at least you are forewarned for this particular citation.

Caro, author of a multi-volume biography — yet to be finished — of Lyndon Johnson, has a new book out soon, Working, about his writing life. I am not quite drumming my fingers on the tabletop in anticipation but it’s a close-run thing.

If you’re wondering why, consider this from a recent New York Times interview by David Marchese with Caro about his interviewing technique.

“I did 22 formal interviews with Johnson’s speechwriter Horace Busby,” said Caro.

“If you look through these interviews, you say, “Boy, what he’s telling you about something in the first interview isn’t what he’s telling you about that same thing in the 10th interview.”

Yes, 22 interviews. The publication date for Working is very, very soon.

Twenty-two interviews and cricket questions to

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