Calls to change the Allianz Hurling League structures to two groups of six smack of elitism, according to Carlow manager Kevin Ryan, who reckons it will kill off the game in weaker counties.
KEVIN RYAN’S GAA career has been filled with expectation followed by disappointment.
As a young Déise player in the 1980s he joined a team filled with self-doubt. A few wins came but ultimately, on Munster final day, they came up short.
He believed he would have time to redress that misery but a niggling knee injury stopped him dead. In a time when no blood meant no injury he was coaxed into rushing his recovery.
By 28 he was finished. A promising career cut short.
At such a young age he felt he had more to give. So he took to the management route and won a county title at the helm of Mount Sion, a Munster title as a selector with Justin McCarthy’s Waterford and then took over Wexford’s Oulart-the-Ballagh where he claimed another county title.
Liam Dunne tipped him to become the next Wexford county manager. But he was overlooked. Bang.
When Carlow came calling in 2009 he helped them to a Christy Ring Cup title, maintained their position in the Allianz HL Division Two and ran Antrim to a point in the championship last year. Another upward curve. Another bang.
The traditional hurling counties aren’t happy. They are mooting the creation of a 12-team Division One.
Ryan knows what’s coming next. An elite division. No relegation. No promotion. Keep the big boys happy. Feck the rest.
“In a sports psychology term that’s a fixed mindset,” he said.
“They can argue they need to play the Kilkennys and Tipps but for me if they go back to the 12 teams they’re saying it’s the way it’ll always be. Everyone else in the third division will not improve.
“People have worked that hard for Carlow to get them where they are and the lads have worked so hard as well. If we ended up with two sixes and we weren’t in it I guarantee you the curve for Carlow would start heading back down the way.”
And, he believes, that goes for all developing counties. Changing the current structures is a smack in the face of development.
Days after Cavan confirmed they were pulling out of the hurling championship, Donal O’Grady made the call for a super division. Ryan can understand his frustration with the current system but for hurling to develop he believes it must accept the need to think outside the usual counties.
Dublin’s success last weekend and the crowd in Croke Park for the final proved that. But just because they’re the capital side doesn’t mean other counties can’t progress to a decent level in time either.
“I don’t think a lot of these people commenting are looking at the bigger picture. I can understand a little where Donal O’Grady is coming from but I still think it’s totally wrong to end up with just six teams in Division One.
“To me they’ve got to look at the big picture and that’s getting more and more hurling counties.
“It’s ok for Clare, Wexford and Offaly, they’re just the ones who come to mind, to be moaning about it. There was none of them moaning about it when there was no threat of going down. There’s no sport in the world where there’s not promotion and relegation.
“If you had two groups of six and put Carlow into the third division you’d be saying goodbye to a developing team.
“Some of the strong counties argued they’d go back if they weren’t playing in Division One, but do we want to just leave the history book there and say ‘that’s it forever more, we’ll be the strong teams and ye’ll be the weak ones’.”
Ryan’s team have impressed since being allowed to play in the Liam MacCarthy competition. Last season they beat Laois in the championship and Wexford in the league.
They defeated Laois in the league again this year but took a 4-28 to 0-8 beating by Clare in their last game, prompting many managers and analysts to call for a review of the structures.
However, Ryan has disagreed and asked people to review the facts before making any decisions.
“That last game with Clare, if that was earlier in the year it wouldn’t have ended like that. We nearly put out an U21 team that day because of club championships and lads training with clubs.
“It was unfortunate. We had nothing to play for but we had a few small injuries and we left them out of it because they were playing with their clubs the following week.
“Take that game out of it and no team has scored more than 20 points against us between the Wexfords, Clares, Limericks, Antrims and Laoises. The amount of experience we have got from those games is standing to us.”
But if the powers that be decide to ignore him and 12-team Division 1A and B, Ryan believes criteria should be applied taking into account a team’s form.
“Carlow beat Laois in the championship last year and the league this year. We’ve played three games with Antrim, beat them in one league and they’ve beaten us by a point in the championship. How do you split them up?
“Again I just think some of the traditional teams, all they’re doing is looking at themselves. They want an easy passage. We won’t develop unless we’re in this division. Kilkenny were All-Ireland champions from Division 2.
“There was a chance for Limerick this year to rebuild. I don’t buy into this thing if you’re strong and you come through Division Two that you’ve no chance of a championship. There was so little between Clare and Waterford last year and Clare didn’t get out of Division Two.”
Given his life so far, it’s understandable that he’s expecting another disappointment. They’ve followed him everywhere. Carlow being knocked out of the big boys league would be no different.
Somehow though, you get the feeling, should this latest potential knock come, hurling would be the real victim.
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