Victory comes at a price for Treaty

THERE was no cheering in Claughaun GAA hall on Tuesday evening as the result of the ballot was read out. There was not a single whoop nor holler as the final tally was announced, an emphatic 83/47 win for the county board and for Justin McCarthy and his management team.

Not alone did the rebel motion, which had been proposed by five senior hurling clubs (Adare, Ahane, Croom, Garryspillane and Patrickswell) fail to gain the necessary two-thirds majority, it was actually an increase in support for McCarthy from a motion passed last December that the rebel clubs were trying to have rescinded, when the Corkman was approved on a vote of 70/54.

A resounding result in favour of the board, then, who had offered consistent backing to the management team, a slap in the face for the rebel clubs and more particularly, for the 24 players currently at odds with the senior management.

But, no-one in Limerick was cheering, and the reason is obvious – while this is indeed a victory for the board and its supporters, it is a victory that comes at massive cost to the victor.

Very few of those who had voted in Claughaun on Tuesday – for or against – can have felt otherwise, which would explain why county board chairman Liam Lenihan was so subdued.

“I appeal now for everyone to respect this decision, and for every club to get behind the team, and to make all their players available for the Limerick senior hurling team,” he said.

“It’s great that this has finished. It’s been difficult, but hope springs eternal. There is still hope, it won’t be easy – sometimes wounds this deep can be difficult to heal, but they can be healed.”

County secretary Mike O’Riordan spoke in the same conciliatory tones.

“The door is still open to the players who left, and we will be working again on trying to persuade them to return.”

Even before Tuesday night’s vote, one player – James O’Brien from the Bruree club, a former Limerick captain – had taken the decision to return, and there were claims that three or four others were also considering ending the standoff. Such suggestions were scotched a couple of weeks ago when the remaining players issued a strong statement denying that anyone else would return.

With this affirmation of Justin McCarthy, however, and no chance now of any change of manager before the expiration of McCarthy’s term at the end of this season at least, those players will come under pressure again to return to the fold.

A quick poll of a small number of players by this newspaper immediately after the vote on Tuesday night, however, followed by a more comprehensive poll yesterday, suggests that the vast majority of the 2009 panel will continue to be unavailable.

Twelve of those were cut by Justin and his team last October, and no effort has been made by the board or the management to have any of those brought back to the fold, while of the 12 who left the panel in support of their erstwhile colleagues and are still out, only the youngest and least experienced are the ones coming under serious pressure by management.

There are very positive signs for Limerick hurling below the top level (Blackrock won the All-Ireland Club JHC, South Liberties won the Munster Club IHC while Árd Scoil Rís are in the All-Ireland Colleges SAHC final); the likelihood now though is that at senior representative level a courageous but outgunned young side will continue to ship heavy defeats in league and championship.

Does that create the possibility that many of the younger players in particular will lose faith in Limerick hurling, turn to rugby or gaelic football?

Absolutely not, reckons Liam Lenihan: “The bedrock of the association is the club, and as long as the clubs are going well, as long as the schools are going well Limerick hurling will be fine.”

So, no matter what happens for the rest of the year, it won’t have any long-term adverse effect on Limerick hurling? “It won’t. We have great people involved at underage in Limerick, from U14 up along, the likes of Ger Hegarty, and they are doing a superb job. We have very, very strong players down the age-groups; we’ve gone from 8% participation to 57% at underage level in the city.

“I was asking someone here lately, who was likely to win the Féile, and they told me – either Monaleen or Mungret, two city teams, with Na Piarsaigh up there as well.

“There are huge changes taking place in the city; I was out in Moyross lately at the launch of LIT Sarsfields, and to see people out there playing hurling and gaelic football. That marks a huge change.”

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