Cavan hurling going nowhere without an updated road map
O N November 15, 1993, a group of Cavan players were making their way towards an obscure venue in Rassan, Co Louth, to play a match in Division 4 of the National League. You may recall what happened next or it may have faded from your memory but in a week in which the merits of Cavan playing league hurling resurfaced, it may be worth revisiting.
The bus transporting Cavan got lost and a car taking other players to the game broke down. In the ensuing commotion, the bus driver was prevailed upon to stand in goal and Louth put eight goals past him in an 8-27 to 1-12 massacre which brought the hurlers of Cavan national attention and ridicule.
Former Cavan county chairman Peter Brady was one of those who became involved in attempts to rescue some dignity by focusing efforts on increasing participation at underage. In the 1993/'94 season they were the worst hurling county in the country, losing all seven league games and conceding 23-97. So Brady and others agreed with the decision to withdraw Cavan from the National League. The next two campaigns did not feature Cavan as they resorted to get their house in order.
The week past has seen Cavan secretary Liam McCabe in his report to county convention suggest pulling out of the league in order to reinvest the money saved elsewhere in hurling areas. It provoked a strong reaction from hurling interests in the county but it is not a new idea. McCabe first raised this at a meeting of Ulster county secretaries around 18 months ago. Back in 1994, the Leinster secretary Mick Delaney told Laois hurling concerns that they might consider withdrawing from the league to focus on building up a strong club base.
Croke Park sent an email on Wednesday firmly ruling out Cavan abstaining from the 2011 league. But the Hurling Development Committee has submitted proposals that include struggling counties being open to new approaches. Established conventions evidently are not working.
In Division 4 of the National Hurling League this year Cavan finished mid-table alongside Fermanagh with four points from five matches. Only Leitrim and South Down fared worse but it was still a respectable showing compared with earlier years. In 2009, Cavan were bottom of the league, winning only one game. In 2008, they were second from bottom, above Leitrim. In the previous six years, they were bottom four times and second from bottom twice.
In this year's Lory Meagher Cup Cavan lost to Fermanagh and Leitrim. In the first round of the Ulster championship they were trounced by Tyrone at Omagh, 6-24 to 1-14. Just to give it some perspective, Tyrone then lost to Armagh by 14 points, who in turn lost by 27 points to Down, who proceeded to lose by 19 points in the Ulster final to Antrim. So, they are a fair way off.
On the ground things are also instructive. The league final saw Mullahoran defeat Woodford Gaels 4-23 to 1-5 and the county final had the same outcome, the winning scoreline on that occasion 3-16 to 0-2. No other clubs took part in either competition. Mullahoran's championship win was their 21st in succession. The county final is a hard-sell to the suspense-seeker.
Páraic Duffy has been making similar soundings to the Cavan secretary recently. The challenge is to introduce hurling to as many grassroots areas and grades as possible and ensure those efforts are maintained. Having a club league that traverses county boundaries, among border counties like Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim and Fermanagh has its merits.
The hurlers of Cavan saw their expenditure fall from around €130,000 in 2009 to around €64,000 in 2010, with midweek training meals withdrawn, playing gear restricted, and travelling expenses slashed through pooling. McCabe praised the hurlers for being willing to accept the new austerity package. Their primary interest is playing hurling.
"The history has been stop-go, stop-go down the years," explains Peter Brady, who says Cavan was a hurling county before it became a football one.
Current Cavan chairman Tom O'Reilly, who insists he is supportive of hurling, says more players have hurled at underage in 2010 than ever before. One of their short-term goals is to field a county minor team in 2011.
After the debacle against Louth in 1993 and the county's withdrawal from the league, Peter Brady spent the time cultivating young players on the ground. After a few years Cavan had county teams at under 16, minor and under 21 levels. When they were ready to return to the National League, they advertised for players in the local media. "Several turned up including a fella called Plunkett from Offaly, Kennedy from Kilkenny and O'Driscoll from Cork," recalls Brady. "I asked Plunkett what his standard was and he said it was good but that he wouldn't be taking Johnny Dooley off the Offaly team."