FORMER Offaly great, Daithí Regan, has blasted GAA officials for paying lip service to hurling and being “more interested in balancing the books” than promoting the game.
Regan, who won an All-Ireland with the Faithful in 1994 and is now a respected analyst with Newstalk and TV3, insists the decreasing competitiveness of the likes of Clare, Wexford, Laois, Offaly and Limerick is of much greater concern than the weakness of hurling in traditional football counties.
He attributes this demise to the introduction of the back door system, which he says, is also creating havoc with club games, but will never be dispensed with as it is “a cash cow”.
A national hurling development forum will be held at Croke Park on Saturday where the challenges facing the game’s progress will be discussed, and solutions sought for how they can be addressed.
The GAA has insisted that the forum will not be a talking shop as the outcomes of the day’s debates will support the composition of a National Hurling Development Strategy under the leadership of the National Coaching & Games Development Committee.
Regan is sceptical, however, arguing that there has been too much “tinkering for the sake of tinkering” with hurling, and that it has been to the detriment of the game.
“The introduction of the back door was to give teams more meaningful games but I’d be of the opinion that they’re more of a cash cow” he said.
“The game itself is fine but there’s been so much tinkering with the National Leagues over the years that I just think it’s a justification for having these committees. It’s tinkering for the sake of tinkering.
“I am aware of situations in dressing rooms when teams are playing Kilkenny and they’re saying that the real championship starts next week, in the qualifiers.
“The days of Offaly, Antrim, Galway and Limerick making up the last four, we’ll never see that again. Limerick, on a given day, might catch Cork in a classic by a point but Cork will get through the back door, and the teams might meet in the All-Ireland semi-final and Cork will win.
“The back door is detrimental to hurling.
“Let them be honest. The system will never change. There will always be a back door system because it generates revenue. I don’t think they’re being truthful when they talk about wanting to promote hurling.”
Regan feels the job of developing the game should be the primary responsibility of county boards rather than Croke Park.
“There’s lip service being paid by the likes of Kerry, Derry and Down, where football is number one. They will come out and say ‘we give this, we give that, tracksuits, meals and the rest’ but in these counties, football will always be the game.
“You’re flogging a dead horse in my view in those counties.”
In the Birr man’s opinion, preventing hurling from dying away in the traditionally strong counties is more important than promoting the game in the weaker ones.
“I can only speak for Offaly but the whole school structure in the county is a disgrace.
“Birr Community School and Banagher College used to be amongst the strongest in the country and they fuelled the Offaly success story.
“Now we’re at the stage where this year, the Offaly county board have withdrawn funding they always used to give to Birr Community School to compete in a traditional tournament in Gort.
“That’s an absolute disgrace when you look at the revenue generated in Croke Park.
“Offaly county board are not taking the problems of hurling seriously. It’s about balancing the books for them.
“They will continue to pay lip service to it, although they will never admit that.”
One county is bucking the trend however.
“Dublin county board are an example of what can be done. They have put structures in place.
“They have overtaken Limerick, Wexford, Offaly, Laois, Clare and Laois by design and not by accident,’’ Regan said.
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