Imagine if you will a vibrant Munster Football Championship. The anticipation of a season ahead where every county rightly believes that they have a chance of provincial glory. The kind of win that could just be the springboard to the ultimate prize in September. Every county chomping at the bit to fly out of the blocks and go for the ultimate prize. Every county except Kerry obviously, because well, they try hard and are getting there but they aren’t really up to it.
Imagine now a Leinster Football Championship where the provincial kingpins are back for another shot at the title, ready to fight back against the usurpers who stole their crown last year. A brilliant battle lies ahead with pitfalls at every turn. Except for Louth, Kildare, Wicklow, Longford and Meath. And let’s be honest Offaly and Wexford who aren’t up to the levels you really need right now (but you know Dublin weren’t great til they threw buckets of money at the development of football in the county so Offaly and Wexford, you know what to do!). And Antrim, but they have a bye into the Ulster Final (which is a competition onto itself) so at least they have a chance of silverware! And of course Galway are from Connacht, but they are in Leinster because there is no senior football championship in Connacht, but that’s an aside. The excitement grows…
What of the teams that are not taking part in the Sam Maguire race I hear you ask. Well we’ll throw Kerry, Mayo, Kildare, Meath, Down, Derry, Armagh and Wicklow into a separate championship and Donegal, Monaghan, Tyrone, Sligo, Roscommon and Louth into another competition. Warwickshire, Longford, Leitrim and Fermanagh can scramble about in the background there will we’re at it and we’ll run it all off in five weeks and get them out of the way so everyone can enjoy the REAL football championship.
We haven’t even mentioned Cavan, who don’t even participate in the football championship because they are not up to the standard, so let’s not worry about them……
Hard to imagine any of the above really happening isn’t it? Yet that is the landscape of modern day hurling. Do people care? It seems not. There is an outcry when Kilkenny footballers are annihilated yet again but where are the voices railing against the injustices of a game that is on it’s knees? The so called ‘greatest game on earth’ that would could take the world by storm yet can’t cross borders in its own county.
The worst thing about it is that hurling is alive and well in the backwoods. It is being kept alive by committed people who care, but who nobody cares for, who are left on their own to fight the good fight.
The GAA does not care for these people though. They are looked on with scant regard, the occasional pat on the head, the patronising clap on the back every so often. Can you imagine if the Liam McCarthy Cup teams were asked to play a provincial final, quarter-final, semi-final and All Ireland final in the space of five weeks? No? Well that is what is happening in the Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard Cups but no one cares so we won’t talk about it, or so the thought process would appear to be in the GAA. For goodness sake there is still confusion over where the semi-finals of the Christy Ring Cup will be held. Six days before the games are due to take place!
‘But these teams aren’t up to it, there is no enjoyment in watching bad hurling’, is the argument that is leveled at the the tiers below the Liam McCarthy. This sort of response is infuriating. By a quirk of fate people are born in different counties. Simple as that. If Henry Shefflin was to be born in Leitrim would we be extolling the virtues of the greatest hurler we’ve ever seen? No, of course not. He could be a shining light in a far away land, one of these hurlers that we often hear people say ‘Oh sure he’d walk into any team in the country.’ But allied to Henry’s superb natural ability he received the best training going. If players receive good training they will improve. If the GAA makes it their goal to bring hurling levels up by flooding the ‘lesser’ counties with hurling coaches then the standard will improve.
The derisory nature that hurling outside of the big guns is treated by RTÉ is another problem. No mention of the lower tier competitions on The Sunday Game, no previews of the big finals in these grades, no highlights of any games. Why would children in Mayo want to pick up a hurl when they don’t even know that their county team is playing, never mind seeing any of their games on screen?
It’s not profitable is another claim thrown at the lower reaches of the sport. Well who’s fault is that? GAA President Liam O’Neill talked recently about the under 21 “brand” as being too important to change. So when the issue of burn-out led to the calls to scrap the competition it was one thing, but when big name sponsors like Cadbury’s and Bord Gáis come on board things change? Well how about the GAA works with RTÉ to promote hurling at the lower levels to appeal to sponsors? Show highlights of one game a week and get their hurling analysts down to watch some of these games? But then of course there is barely any airtime given to the likes of Carlow, London, Westmeath and Antrim who actually participate in the Liam McCarthy Cup so we won’t hold our breath on that.
Promoting the games could start a movement that might in the end attract sponsors and money for the GAA. This is the way forward, the way the world works. There are some of the best stories and rivalries in the GAA out there in the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups- show them, promote them and get people interested.
It’s time the GAA started to actually care about the grassroots or we will soon see a wonderful game die. It’s already on it’s knees, how much longer can it go on this way?