Tuesday 27 September 2016

If there's no will in Kilkenny to play football, there's no way

Published 18/04/2016 | 02:30

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

In 2005 I was in attendance in a Portlaoise hotel for a discussion that was dubbed 'The Great Hurling Debate'.

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Ger Loughnane, Tomas Mulcahy, Michael Duignan and then Dublin hurling manager Humphrey Kelleher were among the panellists and the sacredness of the game was a central theme.

Loughnane spoke of "interference" from football, Mulcahy suggested football was a game for bad hurlers while Duignan, himself a dual inter-county player with Offaly in the past, suggested the fundamentals were no more than "catching and kicking it".

Brian Cody, Kilkenny manager then and now, was there too and left no one in any doubt as to what his feelings about football were.

"Hurling is strong in Kilkenny and it just can't sustain both games," he said at the time. "We get all sorts of flak about it from Croke Park. We're told now that we have to enter teams in the Tommy Murphy Cup this year.

"I'm speaking for myself but we're not interested in playing football at any major level in Kilkenny. We compete at underage level, play our schools competitions and it's grand. Fellas enjoy it. But we're a hurling county and we intend staying that way."

Cody may not be representative of Kilkenny County Board but his views then are hardly different to what is prevalent generally in the county now. Indeed some of the views exist in 'football' counties towards hurling.

If Kilkenny want to continue their dominance of hurling, from such a small population base, then football has to be sacrificed. There are no apologies for that.

Even the senior county football final will be wrapped up within the next three weeks to avoid clashing with the local club league and championships across the summer.

No one should be surprised at this latest turn of events. Two years ago the Kilkenny minor footballers lost to Offaly by 7-30 to 0-2 in the Leinster Championship. That's 37 scores, the same number they conceded to Wexford. Only a heavier weighting of goals has driven this to the forefront now, surely creating a record defeat at this level.

Last year they didn't even compete in the Leinster minor championship so actually fielding a team in 2016 represented some form of progress.

There have been a few small green shoots in recent years. Last June they won the British junior championship by beating Scotland. On the same weekend O'Loughlin Gaels triumphed in the Division 6 Féile while Danesfort reached the Division 10 final. Small, but something.

Because of Kilkenny's status in hurling this result will travel much further but other counties are equally negligent in failing to properly maximise both codes. Last week the Wicklow minor hurlers lost to Meath by 10-22 to 0-7. Meath aren't exactly market leaders in the category and Wicklow can't point to a need to 'sacrifice' to protect the strength of their football.

Kilkenny County Board is among the best run in the association. Nowlan Park is the best small mid-sized venue in the country. Their hurling teams triumph on a regular basis but surely the county can do much better than a 71-point defeat to Wexford at this level?

Then again, if there's no will, there's no way.

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