Kildare Hurling remains in the backwater

So much for the promotion of hurling. This weekend the 2014 Christy Ring Champions, Kildare, will kick off their new season. Unfortunately though, they will not be doing so in their county grounds of St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge. Oh no. That venue is reserved for the Kildare footballers O’Byrne Cup semi-final showdown with DIT.

What about a double-header you say? Out of the question apparently. We don’t know is this to do with concerns over crowds – which is a huge possibility of course given that there are three different sides involved and we know just how huge a following third level teams bring to their games.

Maybe it’s to do with the condition of the pitch? Because after all everyone expects pristine pitches in January, the ball bouncing off the sod as if it were Croke Park in early autumn.

Meath County Board somehow managed to decide that Pairc Tailteann would be able to host a double-header when it became clear that their footballers and hurlers would be playing the same day. Sadly it appears as if Kildare cannot accommodate such a monumental task in a ground described to me just this week by an inter-county player as the worst he has played in.

Ok, that’s fine then if St Conleth’s cannot hold the burden of two pre-season games, then obviously whichever game is moved will be on at a different time so that people can take in both games and maybe honour the players who won an All Ireland under 21 B  title last year and have since graduated to the senior set-up alongside their fellow All Ireland champions?

What’s that? They can’t? Because the games are both fixed for 2pm?

In the infinite wisdom of whoever makes these decisions they have put two games on at the exact same time in the same town on the same day, thereby denying people a chance to watch the two games if they wanted, and missing a massive chance to promote both codes within the county you say? Well that is staggering. STAGGERING.

Just this Sunday Damian Lawlor wrote a superb article in the Sunday Independent outlining many of the struggles that Kildare hurlers have had to overcome to get to the top of their game. Sadly, it appears as if those struggles will continue for some time yet.

St Conleth’s Park is the county ground in Kildare for all teams but sadly some are more equal than others it would appear (As an aside, some player’s on the Kildare Ladies football and Camogie teams have never played in St Conleth’s Park, but I digress).

The hurlers deserve to play in the county ground every bit as much as the footballers and they certainly deserve a chance for a moment in the spotlight after their fantastic achievements in the last twelve months. This decision makes a mockery of any mealy-mouthed talk of promoting all codes equally in the county. It may be a small thing, it may not amount to all that much in the grand scheme of things but if it isn’t pointed out and rectified, these sort of issues will continue into the future. It’s wrong and personally I’m sick to the back-teeth of the disparity in Kildare and in every other county where one group of players has to take a back-seat to another code. Otherwise, the GAA is going down a very dark road from which there is no turning back.

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Sport is Sport

There has been a healthy increase in the discussion and visibility of women’s sport throughout the last couple of years. It’s not before time either. In my eyes we are still not at a place in this country though where we give enough credit to our female athletes who are as dedicated, committed and talented as anything in the men’s game.

I have been very lucky over the years to watch a lot of exceptional sport at all levels both as a reporter and a spectator and to me there is no difference between men and women. Sport is sport, be it played by men or women.

I have watched probably more camogie, women’s soccer and ladies football than most, and never once would I walk away thinking the participants are any less than their male counterparts I report on. It is an incredible shame that for a country that prides itself on being a sporting nation that women’s sports are still seen as inferior. Some of Ireland’s greatest sports stars are female, from Sonia O’Sullivan to Katie Taylor to Emma Byrne and beyond, but rarely does the praise they fitfully garner filter down. We laud those at the top when they are winning then ignore them until the next big event comes along.

The reason that there is a sea-change coming – and it is getting to the point where women’s sport can no longer be ignored – is down to the women themselves. If there has been an increase in attention on women’s sport it is because they themselves have pushed their way onto the agenda. Katie Taylor, the Irish Women’s rugby team, the under 19’s soccer side, the Cork Ladies Footballers, among others, have made it impossible for the media and the country at large to ignore their achievements. The sheer fact that they have garnered such column inches and airtime is due to their own hard work and nothing else. They have pushed themselves on the pitch or in the gym, they have done it for the love of their sport and even more impressively they made the country at large sit up and take notice.

Two years ago I was immensely lucky to take on the role of manager of the Leixlip Ladies Football team in Kildare. It has without a doubt provided me with some of the best memories of my sporting and personal life. The sheer amount of hard work, dedication and drive from the girls has been a joy. They train as hard as any men’s team. They shrug off every obstacle thrown in their way. They are as dedicated to the cause as any team in any sport in the country.

On at least three separate occasions this year I had girls come to me directly and tell me that I wasn’t giving them a proper chance or I was playing them in the wrong position. They were calm, reasoned and up front. It’s rare that you would get that from young men, I know myself I was never someone with enough confidence to say something like that to a manager. Each of those three players turned out to be absolutely correct, and when they played in their best positions they were excellent. They think and care about the game, they push themselves just like anyone else. It showed to me that they are as invested in the team and club as anyone else. Women don’t just play for the craic, for a chance to get out in the fresh air. They are driven and want to win. Many are talented dual players yet they never get the credit that is afforded to men’s teams or players. It was ever thus, but it is completely wrong.

I have had as many enlightening and interesting conversations with women about sport as I have had with men. I have been astonished by acts of skill or bravery on the pitch by both men and by women. The standard is rising all the time in womens sport across the board. The graft, the hard yards are the same from male to female. The 6am gym sessions, the impaired social lives, it’s not just lads who make these sacrifices.

As in life, so in sport, we need to treat everyone equally, we need to laud our sporting heroes no matter their chromosome. Next year do yourself a favour and get along to a women’s game in whatever sport you favour. Believe me you won’t be disappointed. Sport is sport, it doesn’t matter who is playing it, just enjoy it for what it is.

An Open Letter to Kildare GAA

It was with no little dismay that I read this morning of the plans for the Kildare GAA Awards night. It went thusly..

Kildare GAA Awards Night

Saturday 22nd November

Venue: Celbridge GAA Club

Presentation of Medals to: Christy Ring Cup Winners, Leinster & All Ireland U21 B  Hurling Winners, O’Byrne Cup Winners.

Club of the year Award, Player of the year awards ( Football & Hurling )

Buffet Meal and DJ

Tickets: €20 Available from Hawkfield

Now, far be it from me to criticise the hard working people in Kildare GAA, and I can assure you I know how hard they work, but this is just utterly pathetic. And unfortunately pathetic is the word.

Celbridge clubhouse is a fine set-up in a fine club but really and truly is this where Kildare GAA should be celebrating their year? With a buffet and DJ. For €20!? It just smacks of a slapdash approach to what should be a very important night on the GAA calender of the county.

I’ve ranted about this already on Twitter, but now let me put forward what I believe would be something which would do justice to both the intercounty players, club players and club administrators who have toiled so much over this (and every other) season.

First of all, it should be staged in a hotel. How there is not a hotel available in November or early December for an organisation with the clout of Kildare GAA in the county is beyond me. Book a hotel for a proper three course meal as any club would do for their members. Get the event sponsored. Surely there are businesses out there that would have no problem sponsoring the event, which could offset the cost of the hotel? It’s worth looking into in my opinion.

Next get in a guest speaker. It’s not difficult, there are plenty of people out there that would be perfect for the gig and would bring in a few extra bodies to hear them speak.

This year the Kildare hurlers created history on two fronts by winning the Christy Ring Cup and the All Ireland B under 21 titles for the first time ever. That deserves huge plaudits and those players deserve their night in the spotlight. They deserve to be feted by their County Board, All Stars style, in full view of their family, friends and loved ones. Handing out medals in a hall while people wander along a buffet table is not the way to do that.

The footballers deserve their rewards too, and while an O’Byrne Cup medal is not all they set out to achieve at the beginning of the year, it is a medal, they deserve their reward and on top of that they get a chance for a nice meal, a catch up with their team-mates and a chance to mingle with their hurling fraternity on a night out, something that doesn’t always happen.

There is to be awards for Club of the Year. This is a massive accolade so why not announce a top three and invite the clubs along and announce the winner on the night? It would make for a bit of excitement and swell the numbers further at the banquet.

Similarly the Player of the Year in Football and Hurling is to be awarded. Presuming that this is for inter-county players then why not, as pointed out by my colleague Ruth Chambers on twitter as they do in Offaly, award the top players at every level of the inter-county teams from minor, under 21 and senior.

While we’re at it, why not award club players of the year? Imagine the sense of satisfaction a player would feel from being named the Senior club footballer or the Intermediate Hurler of the Year? It would be a reward for all the hard work, all the hours training, all the missed nights at home, all the weekends in because of games, 99% of it away from the spotlight, in off-Broadway games that not everyone gets to see.

Put all this together, advertise it, make it known to the clubs, get friends and family involved, get a young Kildare band to play after, perhaps making it a night that musicians from the county want to be part of in years to come. Get Mick Konstantin and his ukulele up there! Make it a celebration of Kildare, a night out for the players, their wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, parents, those who have had to put their lives on hold as well as they watched their loved ones train harder than ever before with very little reward.

Make it a night that people want to be part of, that makes them proud to be a Lilywhite.

P.S. And who knows, it might even work as a fundraiser!!

The Big Four of Gaelic Football

Since 2011 Kerry, Dublin, Mayo and Donegal have contested every All Ireland final between them. (2011, 12, 13, 14). Since 2011 the only team to knock out one of the four has been one of the other four as they collected 14 out of 16 provincial titles (Cork 2012 & Monaghan 2013 won the other two)

2011 Dublin knocked out Donegal/Kerry. Kerry knocked out Mayo
2012 Donegal beat Mayo/Kerry. Mayo beat Dublin (Cork beat Kerry in Munster final)
2013 Dublin beat Mayo/Kerry. Mayo beat Donegal (Monaghan beat Donegal in Ulster final)
2014 Donegal beat Dublin. Kerry beat Mayo.
Only Cork in 2012 and Tyrone in 2013 outside of these four sides have appeared in an All Ireland semi-final. (All four won minor provinces this year, Dublin won AI minor in 2012, Mayo 2013, either Kerry or Donegal 2014).

The TV view

With Rachel Wyse writing off the Mayo challenge in her column in the Independent on Saturday, Sky were never going to get the nod when it came to a choice for viewing Sunday’s big match, so we settled in for some old school fun and debate with RTE instead. You’ll know for again Rachel.

 

Joining the usual suspects on Sunday was former Galway manager Alan Mulholland resplendent in an expensive looking suit that told us everything we needed to know about how his bookies enjoyed the Galway Races.

 

The Brolly fella was off to a flyer early, comparing James O’Donoghue to Luis Suarez minus the propensity for chomping on human flesh – it was early doors though so no point in ruling anything out or in in the heat of a semi-final Joe!

 

Alan was making some good points which brought out the alpha male in our Joseph, and the Derry man even sat up in his chair indicating his desire not to be out done by the newbie.

 

Joe said Mayo were in no mans land when they defended and poor Colm seemed to be there as well such was his lack of air time but he finally got into his stride when he was highlighting the fabulous Breaffy brothers.

We went pitchside then to see the wonder of wonders as Pat Spillane did the unthinkable and tipped Mayo for victory, his confidence battered by Maria Walsh confidently breezing into Tralee and nabbing the Rose of Tralee crown for Mayo.

 

Back in studio Colm had to stand up for James Horan as Joe called him a whinger but while a lot of the talk surrounded the importance of the bench for Kerry, (showing that the phrase “the padded substitutes seats” hasn’t quite caught on just yet in the Gaa), nonetheless Colm and Alan went for Mayo to sneak it. Joe? Well Joe talked and talked and we’re still not sure who he was going for.

 

Half time arrived and sure it was nearly time to pack up and think about beating the rush if you were a Mayo supporter. Alan wasn’t too hopeful for the Connacht champions after Lee Keegan’s sending off as Michael Lyster did what RTE presenters love doing and read from the rule book, explaining why the Westport man saw red.

 

Colm, as any proud Meath man would be, was annoyed with the sending off. No blood he almost said, sure how could it be a sending off if there’s no blood?

 

Joe? Well Joe wasn’t happy with Mayo. The memo though didn’t seem to have gone to the clips department though, for as Joe bemoaned the Mayo sweeper system, we were treated to several examples of Mayo stopping Kerry scoring thanks to the sweeper. Maybe the tech lads just don’t listen to Joe anymore either?

 

Joe and Alan were about to take it outside as the debate rumbled on before Colm stepped in to calm matters down but were the boys as confident for the green and predominately red in the second half? Not exactly. Throw caution to the wind they said, sure what else can they do?

 

By the final whistle, caution, the kitchen sink, Maria’s tiara and everything else the two teams could lay their hands had been thrown to the wind in a game described by the dynamic duo of Marty Morrisey and Tommy Carr as nearly as good as a hurling game. Sure is there any higher praise than that football people!?

The lads in studio were giddy with the improbability of it all, as the two teams almost out come-backed each other in a thriller. Colm and Joe even got to throw in a moan about the luckless gael, forced out of his home by marauding foreigners for the replay. Sure it’s nearly a pity it wasn’t a hurling match…. Flight of the Hurls anyone??

Limerick, it’s not you it’s them

The fiasco surrounding the replay of the Mayo Kerry All Ireland semi-final has really left the gaels of Mayo in particular fuming.

An All Ireland semi-final outside of Croke Park just doesn’t sit right. The fact that the reason it has been moved is because of a money-spinning exercise to entice the almighty dollar to these shores and into the Croke Park coffers leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

But it’s not a one-off I hear you say, didn’t the Dubs have to go to Cork for the 1983 replay? Well that was agreed upon because the Cork County Board argued the case that Croke Park was a home venue for Dublin and it was only fair that the replay be held on the Rebel home patch (by the by I wonder when Croke Park stopped being seen as home for Dublin? But I digress..). The point is that both county boards agreed to the move. Was there any suggestion of moving the 2008 All Ireland semi-final replay between Cork and Kerry out of Croke Park when Limerick of even Thurles would have made sense to the put upon GAA fans? I don’t remember it. In 2004 was there a suggestion of moving Mayo and Fermanagh out of Croker? Of course not, that was the venue for All Ireland football semi-finals and there was no moving. Until now.

But the atmosphere in Limerick will be brilliant and sure Croke Park wasn’t even sold out on Sunday. Over 52,000 made their way to HQ yesterday and that is despite a crippling rail strike that I personally know stopped people from travelling to the game. Had the very, VERY, inconvenient rail strike not been on, there is every chance the attendance would have breached the 60,000 mark. Plus, the atmosphere was electric. From inside the stadium to those watching it on television, everyone agreed that the atmosphere was superb even without a full house. The Gaelic Grounds in Limerick is a wonderful, very under-used stadium but it is not an All Ireland semi-final venue or at least hasn’t been since Croke Park became our number one stadium. It houses a maximum of 50,000, which will in no way cater for the crowd which will want to see the game. Even the notoriously semi-final phobic Kerry supporters will want to get out and support their side, especially now that it is in a venue so close to home, and fair play to them for that. Simply put, the venue is not big enough for this game.

“Mayo should stop whinging, and just play the game wherever. Sure wouldn’t we play it in the back garden?”, seems to be another refrain being heard today. Well damn right Mayo folk are glad to get another crack at the game, and if you had said to me at half-time that the Green and Red would have a replay I’d have said “Yes please.” Had you said that the replay was going to be in Limerick, I would have said “Sorry what now??”

I would pride myself on being fairly well up on the goings on of the GAA considering that it is part of my remit as a sports journalist, but this decision came completely out of left-field to me, and it seems a lot of other people. I knew about the Penn State v UFC game since it’s announcement and I remember thinking that great and all as that is but is August not a silly time to play a game, slap bang in the middle of the busiest time of the GAA/Croke Park calender? That’s not hindsight, it’s something more than just myself thought. As it turned out, it was the wrong thing to do and it has come home to roost for the GAA. Had it been flagged well in advance that any possible replay would be in Limerick and not Croke Park, and I am open to correction on whether it was or not, well then I think there would have been some serious grumblings long before we came to where we are now. I for one didn’t hear anything about the venue for a semi-final replay being anywhere other than Croke Park, and I’m pretty sure it would have been a major topic of conversation in the run-up to what everyone agreed was going to be a very tight encounter. There was no such talk which leads me to believe that there was no announcement on the change of venue. 

All in all, the game will go ahead in Limerick it seems despite objections, and meanwhile our American visitors will coo and and proclaim what a magnificent stadium Croke Park is. I wonder though will anyone tell them while they are admiring the GAA’s pride and joy that the players and people it was originally built for can’t even use it for some of the most important games of the year anymore?

All Lilywhite on the night

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.