Hurling should be part of the school curriculum, it's up there with our language - Fogarty
Published 20/07/2016 | 02:30
A few years ago, Firoda National School, where the newly-appointed national hurling development manager Martin Fogarty taught for much of his adult life, engaged in the Comenius programme, an EU-supported initiative that sees teachers from different backgrounds and nationalities trade ideas and culture.
In one particular exchange he found himself engaged with teachers from Germany, Poland, Spain and Sweden.
Naturally, being based in Kilkenny, a game of inter-county hurling was part of their itinerary. It was there that a lady teacher from Sweden sowed an idea in Fogarty's mind. "If we had this game it would be on our curriculum," she enthused.
"Up to that I looked at hurling as hurling. But she was dead right," Fogarty reflects.
Hurling as part of the school curriculum? Far-fetched maybe but Fogarty makes his case. Why celebrate something and learn about it when it's gone, he asks?
"I only realised it since then, that the game of hurling is up there with the language, with the Book of Kells. Look at 1916 and all that was done with that this year.
"The thing about hurling is that it's alive. I think everyone should have the opportunity to play it at some level.
"For some people it's about going down to the local field and having a few pucks. Maybe bringing a hurl to the beach.
"It's about being involved in a club, playing the game at some level and then, up the line, people competing and wanting to win county championships, make county teams, and, at the very top, they want to win All-Ireland. So it is multi-factorial."
But why should hurling and not another sport get special privilege in the classroom?
"It's our native game and something that no other country has. And it's our heritage," Fogarty reasons.
"Ask yourself why do we study history, for example? Why do we study wars and battles? Why don't we study something that's alive?
"It's like our Irish dancing or our Irish music. Or art. Why do we paint pictures in schools, why do we play a tin whistle? Why not hurling?
"I would see it down the line, This is just a hope. I'm not going to be able to deliver on that.
"But I would love to see a situation where it's a Leaving Cert subject where you could get points for playing the game, coaching it or maybe just knowing the whole history.
"Unfortunately, like a lot of countries with things that they have, sometimes they don't appreciate them until they are gone. The time to keep something strong is when it's strong.
"Imagine down the line hurling failing and then people trying to retrieve it and revive it. . .
"Take the Native Americans, everyone wants to go over and see how they used to live years ago but they're gone, they're wiped out. The time to keep something alive is when it's alive."
After taking early retirement, the former Kilkenny selector of nine years - during which time the Cats won six All-Ireland titles - has been getting his feet under the table in the new role, a cornerstone of the Hurling 2020 review body, chaired by former Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy, that made recommendations for the game in 2015.
He sees his role as trying to "grow the game"; multiplying the number of genuine All-Ireland contenders overnight is not a priority.
"My job is not about All-Irelands. It's about trying to get more people hurling and get more people enjoying it," Fogarty says
"It's not a matter of saying 'right there's 10 counties we'll do this, this and this and win your All-Ireland'.
I won't say I'm not interested in All-Irelands but if you were to take the next 10 years, if a different team were to win every year that's 260 All-Ireland medals.
"That's only a small amount of players, whereas I'm looking at thousands enjoying the game.
"I wouldn't judge hurling in a county by the progress of the senior team. Because for the senior team to progress so many things have to come right."
Take Galway. Just because they haven't won an All-Ireland senior title in almost 28 years, it doesn't mean their structures aren't right, he argues. Quite the contrary in fact.
Antrim, he says, have four clubs better than many in Kilkenny.
"Loughiel, Cushendall, Dunloy and Ballycastle. The structures they have up there, the amount of hurling going on up there, the culture, it's enviable," he says.
"You could say Antrim hurling is not where it was, because when Antrim hurling was strong they had a nucleus of very, very talented players.
"Those four clubs need no help from anyone other than people to say, look, you're doing as well, in fact you're probably doing better than clubs in Kilkenny.
"But to get it happening at county level we need to reinvigorate the other clubs that are maybe gone a little stale and see if we can lift them up a little bit again and build the whole thing."
Inter-county strength shouldn't be the ultimate guide to hurling well-being. Just because Kilkenny dominate the main competition doesn't mean the game isn't thriving.
"Look at golf when Tiger Woods was dominant. Was there a problem in golf? All the other players, sure they were very good. It's just Tiger was that bit better," argues Fogarty.
"Unfortunately if a team finds themselves out of their depth in a game of hurling you can get a fairly serious beating.
"Take Tipperary and Waterford. Waterford are an outstanding team. Their skill level is something else, their fitness levels too but a couple of balls go wrong in a game and suddenly you are wiped out the door. That's sport."
Fogarty says he'll be "a listener" above everything in the early stages of the role and will look to transplant ideas that work in some counties to others. He talks of "pockets" of hurling in places like Westmeath, Roscommon and Offaly that need to be supported first and then nurtured. He sees this as a main strand of his work.
Fogarty reels off some figures to support his view that the game is strong: 120,000-plus at Cúl camps this summer, 10,000 Foundation Level and Level One coaches.
"What would I like to see? I would certainly like to see some hurling happening where it hasn't happened," he says.
"I would like to see it growing in places where it is reasonably strong. Of course I'd like to see more teams competing at the very top but if that happens, it won't be down to me, it will down to the people working at the coalface who have been working for years doing that job.
"One of the main things I can do is to enthuse the people who are at the coalface."