Wednesday 23 August 2017

Hurling being left to rot by Croker's lack of sales pitch

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

So farewell then to the Cavan senior hurling team -- for this year at least.

Five humiliating league defeats by an average of 31 points has been followed by withdrawal from the Lory Meagher Cup and a promised re-structure, hopefully leading to a return to the inter-county scene as soon as possible.

Liam Griffin came to mind when news of Cavan's exit broke. I recall interviewing him in the Ferrycarrig Hotel in early 2000 when, in that animated style which discussions on hurling usually evoke in him, he raged against what he regarded as a chronic systems failure in the promotion of the game.

"Our footballers can go to Australia and play a new game -- and I'm all for that -- but we're unable to develop hurling in, for instance, Longford," he said.

"Why is that? Australia is 24 hours away, Longford is right here, yet we largely ignore it and others like it. The new DJ Carey could be living in Longford, Leitrim or Cavan but we'll never know. We have failed him."

Warming to his theme, he argued that there was no real plan to develop hurling in the weaker counties. It wasn't about a scarcity of money either, but rather resulted from an inertia among a largely football-dominated GAA.

"If someone can market coloured gripe water, call it Coca-Cola and clean up world-wide, we should be able to sell hurling in Longford," said Griffin.

He was using Longford for illustration purposes only rather than a specific example of neglect but his basic point was that for all the reviews, initiatives and plans, hurling wasn't being sold properly. Consequently, it was hardly a surprise that it continued to struggle in the majority of counties.

COLLAPSED

More than 11 years on, has anything changed? Yes. One of the weakest in the hurling pack has collapsed and won't be able to move on with the rest of the herd this summer. Indeed, it's unclear when it might regain enough power to stagger to its feet again.

Cavan's exit from the Meagher Cup won't unduly worry hurling people in the powerful strongholds, but the symbolism of a county withdrawing from a championship competition after enduring five massive defeats in the league cannot be ignored.

As of now, inter-county hurling is not represented in one of our 32 green fields. Will others follow? How many? And when? It's two years since the GAA celebrated its 125th anniversary with understandable pomp and pageantry, but what does it mean if the association cannot structure itself so that all 32 counties have senior inter-county teams in both codes?

Were issues of this importance debated at Congress earlier this month? Absolutely not. There was, however, a discussion on whether the County Board Officer for the Irish language required a proficiency in Irish and whether the term "Public Relations Officer" should be changed to "Communications Officer" in the rule book.

The sheer pointlessness of it all led a rather exasperated John Costello, Dublin CEO, to comment at one stage that it was 45 minutes since there had been any mention of football or hurling.

At the very moment all that was going on, Cavan were in disarray. What's really worrying about their predicament is that it marks a dramatic decline in the space of 12 months. They finished third of six in Division 4 last year after winning two of five games while losing two others by just two points.

They beat Leitrim and South Down but lost to them by a combined total of 58 points this year. Now, they are out of competition and clearly facing an uncertain future.

Once again, the issue of governance arises in the GAA. In particular, the question of whether there should be separate bodies running hurling and football, not just locally but centrally too. It would, of course, have to all come under one umbrella to ensure efficiency and co-operation, but there's a distinct feeling that hurling loses out under the current arrangements which, in most counties, are dominated by football.

The reverse applies in a small number of counties where football is the second-class citizen, but since hurling has a smaller base nationally it tends to suffer the most.

It's seriously bad news when a county withdraws from competition and while ultimately it's up to Cavan to sort out their problems with hurling, they need help and guidance from Croke Park because, whatever it takes, no county can be allowed to remain outside the competition structure for long.

After all, if one county can get away without fielding a team, how soon before others follow, especially in these cost-conscious days? Not exactly the vision for the GAA which Michael Cusack and Co had all those years ago.

Dublin set new record in defeat

It's behind them now but Dublin footballers must still be wondering how they lost to Cork last Sunday.

To add to their disappointment, they created an unfortunate record by becoming the first team to score so much (2-14) in the NFL final and still lose.

Prior to last Sunday, that unenviable record was held jointly by Galway, who scored 1-16 against Kerry in 2004 but lost by a point, and by Mayo, who lost to Dublin by 2-18 to 2-13 in 1978.

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