FINALLY there seems to be a bit of sense coming out of Croke Park in relation to the development of the game hurling throughout the country.
Your Tipperarys, your Kilkennys, your Clares, your Limericks, your Corks, they're grand. They've always been grand. Barring unforeseen circumstances they always will be. A five or ten year spell here and there without an All Ireland might be considered a famine within the boundaries of the Rebel County, for example, but a crisis it is not.
Great powers rise and fall, but they remain great powers in the larger scheme of things. Before the appointment of Jimmy Barry Murphy as Cork hurling boss this time last year people were a little worried about the state of hurling on Leeside and now well, despite the loss of Darren Sweetman, the future is seen as bright once more. Brighter at any rate.
So when we talk about the development of the game of hurling we're not talking about the traditional powers. We're talking about those on the fringes of the Liam McCarthy and those a level or two below that and on that score the GAA has failed to do a whole pile to grow the game, to make the race for the Liam McCarthy more of a geniune All Ireland competition than its present state which has, at most, ten genuinely competitive counties participating – and that's being generous, we counted Offaly in that and as things stand they're just hanging on to the coattails for their Leinster rivals.
There are a number of other counties who participate in the Liam McCarthy who frankly have no chance whatsoever of challenging the big boys. Antrim for example. Or Carlo w. Or Westmeath. Or Laois who seem to be in total freefall at present following a harrowing summer for hurling in the O'Moore County. It was to Laois that Croke Park recently spoke sense. In light of their rapidly declining fortunes the GAA offered them the chance to regrade to the Christy Ring Cup for next season. Unfortunately it was an option Laois failed to take up. If they'd just swallowed their pride then they'd be competiting at a level closer to their true abilities than the one they aspire to.
Aspiration is great. It would be marvellous if Laois and Antrim and Carlow were good enough to compete in the Leinster championship. The trouble is they're just not. New Carlow and former Kerry boss John Meyler will probably disagree with us here.
During his tenure in Kerry his big ambition was to get Kerry back into the Munster championship and he would have happily had them in it this summer given the chance. Considering how poorly Kerry fared in the Christy Ring it's just as well that hope wasn't realised.
And yet there was a certain logic to Meyler's ambition. By staying in the Christy Ring the Kingdom went stale. They could have won it again, they were good enough to, but so what? What would that prove? The they were better than Wicklow? Or London?
The problem for counties like Kerry is that the Christy Ring isn't competitive enough and for counties like Laois and Carlow (sorry John) the Leinster championship is too competitive. The GAA needs to grab hold of the agenda with hurling and forget about pride and the like and organise a genuniely competitive second tier hurling competition.
One containing Kerry, Carlow, Laois, Antrim, Westmeath, Wicklow, Meath. Call it the Christy Ring, call it the All Ireland B, call it whatever you want. The single most important thing to do is to keep it competitive. Don't allow promotion out of it like the Christy Ring does at the moment. That's how it ended up in the sorry state that it's in.
Instead allow for a route into the All Ireland qualifiers for say the finalists or maybe even just that champions. If they lose that first round game then back to the Christy Ring with them for the following season. If they win then they can go back into their provincial championship. The team they defeated, however, would be relegated to the Christy Ring.
It would keep the second tier competitive by providing for a real avenue for progress for those capable of making it and for those counties incapable of making it in the short or medium term it would guarantee them meaningful competition.
As Giovanni Trappatoni is discovering this week, the manner of a defeat is important. Wicklow would lose to Kilkenny. They would also lose to Antrin nine times out of ten, but against Antrim they could give a good account of themselves. They wouldn't be utterly demoralised. They would have things to work on. Things they could improve. The best way to improve is to play against teams just a little bit above your level.
Contrary to the popular myth, the best way to learn is not by jumping in at the deep end. They have shallow ends in swimming pools for a reason.
So well done Croke Park, it's just a pity Laois didn't take the hint.