NEXT WEEKEND Kildare kick off their search for a first Leinster Football title since 2000 when they do battle with Louth in Croke Park but less than 24 hours earlier the county has an even more important date with destiny at Headquarters.
For the first time since 2007 Kildare hurlers will take to the field in the Christy Ring Cup final as they go in search of a trophy that has eluded them since the competition’s inception in 2005. The last few years have provided plenty of heartbreak for the Lilywhites in the competition but victory over Meath on Saturday put paid to those memories as Kildare booked a date with favourites Kerry in the second tier decider.
However there is a bitter taste in the mouth that this final comes upon Brian Lawlor’s team with such abruptness. It is unfortunately due to the fact that the hierarchy of the GAA treats the Christy Ring, Lory Meagher and Nicky Rackard Cups with such disdain. Imagine any county being asked to turn around in seven days for an All Ireland final appearance after their semi-final? It is beyond belief and beyond contempt. Where is the time for the players to rest and recuperate from their exertions, the time to order and get new gear for the big day, something that may not seem like a big deal, but can be precious to commemorate the achievement of reaching their end goal. Where is the opportunity for the counties to organise media nights or fund-raising events to highlight what is a massive day in the player’s sporting careers? What is the need to get these games out of the way in record time? Could the GAA not do the six counties participating in the triple header on Saturday the good grace of a weekend break to clear up injuries or even drum up publicity to get supporters to the games? There are no games in Croke Park the following weekend (as far as I know), so why the rush to run the competitions off so quickly? It’s unfair, and yet another indication that these competitions are an annoyance to the GAA.
Meanwhile though those who love the game in the so-called weaker counties will continue to fight the good fight. They will receive no thanks and even on days in the limelight such as Saturday will receive scant recognition. It is though just reward for the hard work of those who have swam against the tide in their support of hurling in the county over the years. Aiden Sinnott, Eddie Lawler, Abbie Murphy and Niall Lanigan are just some of those who have represented the hurling clubs and folk of the county at a time when perhaps they have not always received the support that the game deserves.
Former manager Willie Sunderland, his backroom staff including Dom McSweeney, Bertie Sherlock and others strove manfully but fell just short over the past few years to get to the Christy Ring finale, but they deserve great credit for their work in often trying circumstances, which Brian Lawlor has built on to get Kildare across the line to Saturday’s decider. The great work done by various under-age managers and their selectors and trainers must also be praised and honoured, for without their work, the game would wither and die, even as the country exalts in how great a game hurling is.
Most especially though it is the players who deserve huge praise for getting this far, having endured sickening defeats, relegation, (and promotion), issues with expenses and much, much more as they toil in the shadow of their footballing counterparts. From those who were there in 2007 to those who have been joined the panel more recently, they have endured the misery of trying to battle the elements on pitch number 4 in Hawkfield in the bitter cold and driving wind in the Kehoe Cup in January, and now this is their time to step into the spotlight. For Kildare supporters it will be tough to make the journey to Croke Park two days in a row, but I would encourage those who can to do so. The players and those who work behind the scenes for them deserve all the support they can get. With the continued success of the Kildare camógs, (who face their own big game in a Leinster Intermediate final in Portlaoise on Sunday), the small ball game is alive and kicking in Kildare. Hopefully some day soon the GAA hierarchy appreciates that it is not just the bigger counties that make the association what it is.