The End of Summer

AFTER a glorious week of weather in this beautiful little country of ours we are being told to prepare for a return to the normality of changeable weather in the coming weeks. “The summer is over” people will laugh and say “wasn’t it great while it lasted!”. It’s a  typical Irish approach to our lot, grin and bear it and get on with it. And after all there is little we can do about it after all. No man controls the weather.

Funnily enough though it really IS the end of the summer for a certain section of our country. The hurlers who showcase their wares in the Christy Ring,Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups have seen their inter-county seasons draw to a close on the first weekend of June. They finished with a bang though, with Warwickshire eclipising Longford before Donegal and Down came out on top in thrilling encounters in the Rackard and Ring finals respectively. Games that would be lauded as instant classics were they to occur between Cork and Clare or Galway and Kilkenny, received their five minutes in the sun this weekend but now they are done and dusted normal service can be resumed. Back to the real business of summer hurling. Stand aside lads, let the hurling counties at it seems to be the message.

Amazingly Down had to play six games in six weeks to finally capture the Christy Ring Cup after defeats in their two previous appearances at this stage. Kerry were on the verge of their second Ring triumph in three years and on the back of three All Irelands in a row at under 21 B level there was optimism that maybe they were ready to take a giant leap forward. But these are only sub-plots, if even, to the rest of the summer. By the time Limerick face either Clare or Cork in what will undoubtedly be a wonderful Munster Final occasion, the hurlers of Down and Kerry will be long forgotten, a footnote in the season.

Even when it is pointed out that these counties can concentrate on their club championships at the height of summer, let’s not forget that their winners will go onto provincial level where they have to wait for the representatives of the Liam McCarthy counties. At club level they still have to end their season playing in October and November alongside the big guns.

This does not seem right or fair. On the Sunday Game after the three games (three All Ireland finals let’s not forget, which is why the tickets for the games were priced at €25) received the obligatory quick recap of the three games there was at least some discussion of the lower-tier of hurling. This contrasted with the frankly pathetic coverage of the finals on Thursday’s Championship Matters which amounted to one question from Marty Morrissey to Vincent Hogan. Woeful but not unexpected. Much more important obviously was the light-hearted exchange as to whether or not John Tennyson might possibly switch to play for another county.

On the Sunday Game Donal Óg Cusack put forward the idea of a Team Ulster to compete in the Liam McCarthy Cup. Cusack is a shrewd reader of the game and is a wonderful analyst and may in time become an even better administrator such is his passion and understanding of the game. He was lauded in some areas for this idea, giving a shot at the big time to players in Ulster who might not have the chance to play Liam McCarthy Cup hurling otherwise. The main area of criticism that I could see though was coming from the counties of Ulster themselves, some complaining that it was a quick-fix solution to the problem.

Cusack must to be given credit for trying to come up with a way to broaden the appeal of hurling north of the border but at the same time this idea would more than likely be a hindrance rather than a help.

If we look at the idea of  Team Ulster, it was proposed to take the best players from each county and form the team, almost like a Railway Cup style side competing in the Liam McCarthy. But this idea is flawed because once again we are creating an elite. The likes of Down’s brilliant Paul Braniff would be plucked away from the Mourne side and while it would give him a chance to compete at the top level, what of his Down team-mates? Do Down try and compete at Christy Ring level while their four or five best players are off training and playing for Team Ulster? Would there be a similar approach to Connacht hurling or would Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim become a Team Connacht in the Christy Ring Cup? What of the Leinster teams such as Kildare and Meath, would they get their chance, and where do Kerry fit into the wider picture? It is a complicated situation.

Worse than that is the further knock-on effect that this will have on the most important entities of all, the clubs. This is where the work needs to be done. Building from the ground up, not the top down. Where would the benefit to the clubs come? Cusack’s idea deserves consideration but really it is only the start of a bigger conversation that needs to take place.

Hurling at the lower levels can be poor and sometimes hard to watch but isn’t that the case at the top level as well? There are as many if not more exciting, fluid, tense games of hurling from Lory Meagher to Nicky Rackard to Christy RIng level as there are in the Liam McCarthy Cup. The players, managers and administrators who toil away without the credit they deserve need to be given a voice. Go to the grassroots and ask them for solutions. They are the ones who see the problems first hand, they are the people to talk to.

Hurling needs change and no matter how exciting it is to see Limerick back in a Munster Final, work still needs to be done. It won’t be easy but every team deserves their day in the late summer sun. And unlike the weather we CAN do something about this.

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