For a man who is set to be involved in the Longford hurling management set-up next year, John Hunt has little time for the county’s attitude to hurling. Ultimately, it may end up costing him but he can’t hold his tongue.
A former manager in Meath and Cavan, he despairs at how the game has been treated in the latter too. Meath, he knows, are making great advances but it’s in the likes of Cavan and Longford where he fears the game is all but dead.
“Somebody has to speak out about the shocking and disgraceful state of hurling in these counties,” he says. “Hurling there is almost extinct. If something doesn’t change, it will be in the next 10 to 15 years. Schools and clubs are the issue and the antipathy shown towards hurling has to be seen to be believed. People in traditional hurling counties don’t understand what’s going on but they should.
“If it weren’t for pockets of 10 to 12 people in counties like Cavan and Longford, there would be no hurling at all. I have no problem in saying hurling is a sectarian sport in these counties. If it sounds like I’m angry it’s because I am that our national game in this counties is being so neglected.”
After choosing to focus on improving their underage structures, Cavan have signalled their intention to play in the Lory Meagher Cup next year for the first time since 2010 — they entered in 2011 but conceded their one and only game. However, they will not be participating in the Allianz Leagues and haven’t done so since 2011, when they lost all five games in Division 3B with a score difference of minus 157.
In October, former Kilkenny star John Henderson called for weaker counties to amalgamate at underage level. Hunt couldn’t disagree more. “The remedy that hurling and the small but genuine hurling fraternities in these virtual wastelands need is a workable plan to revive the game.”
A regular visitor to Canada, Hunt has noticed how the state and regional governments fund and promote their national game, ice hockey. He wonders why the same isn’t done here.
“In Canada, ice hockey is subsidised by provincial government. They see it as an investment in young people they want to see growing into better and responsible adults. They are also preserving their national sport. If any other country or government displayed such hostility and disdain for their national pastime that we in Ireland have, there would be a revolution.”
Earlier this week, Davy Fitzgerald questioned why counties who have little or no interest in hurling are allowed to vote on the future of the game. He said: “What bothers me in this is that strictly football counties have a vote on how and when hurling is played. It shouldn’t be that way.”
Hunt couldn’t agree more with his fellow Clare man. “He’s 100% right. They should not have a vote. Croke Park isn’t going to challenge these counties. They’re getting money from funds to develop hurling and I’d question if it’s going to hurling. They might think a euro towards hurling is depriving a euro to football.
“I’m all for setting up a committee that is interested in developing hurling where it should be developed most. The GAA are off to Abu Dhabi and Texas selling hurling where they should be doing 60 miles up the road from Dublin.”
And despite the progress made by the likes of Meath and Kerry in recent years, Hunt questions what exactly the lower championship competitions have done for hurling as a whole. “The introduction of the Meagher, Rackard, and Ring competitions was met with a fanfare of enthusiasm by many more than a decade ago. These competitions were to be a transfusion for the counties outside the status quo counties. I did state at the time why I couldn’t visualise any change because new competitions and trophies were introduced and I did attend the launch in Croke Park.
“It baffles me why a system in sport will allow a vacuum of nine months, and why the counties that are affected by it haven’t protested surprises me. Change is needed here and soon or maybe set up a hurling welfare panel from all the struggling counties.”
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