Thursday 19 October 2017

Is Kilkenny's dominance bad for hurling in the rest of the country?

No says Cliona Foley

14 September 2003; Kilkenny captain DJ Carey lifts the Liam McCarthy Cup. Guinness All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final, Kilkenny v Cork, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit; Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
14 September 2003; Kilkenny captain DJ Carey lifts the Liam McCarthy Cup. Guinness All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final, Kilkenny v Cork, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit; Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Cliona Foley and Colm Keys

COMPLAINING about the great stripey giants' dominance is like exclaiming that Usain Bolt should slow down a little and give the other lads a chance to catch up.

What is the magnificence of sport if not to see it performed at its zenith by those with the highest gifts and artistry?

What people sometimes forget, and Manchester United are a prime example, is that great sporting dynasties don't just randomly happen.

They are created through hard graft and dedication and, in the case of team sports, brilliant tactical nous and man-management.

In Brian Cody's Kilkenny, hurling has its perfect storm right now, but they're not the first team to dominate and won't be the last – Kerry won eight football titles between 1975-86 and Tipp hurlers claimed five titles in eight years from 1958.

The mark of great champions is to make it look easy, but do you honestly believe that babies in Kilkenny are born with some wondrous gene that naturally gifts them sublime hurling and handball skills?

No, they work bloody hard (albeit helped by the dearth of other sporting distractions locally) and nine All-Irelands in 13 years shows application, hunger and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for their team-mates that totally defies trends in this egocentric Facebook age.

The Chicago Bulls won six NBA titles in eight years in the '90s and would probably have won eight if Michael Jordan hadn't temporarily retired in '93-95 but they haven't won once since.

The LA Lakers then briefly dominated the game but, since 2003, six different teams have won the title.

INSPIRED

When any team or player dominates a sport, everyone else is inspired to raise their game. Thus Woods begat McIlroy, Federer begat Nadal, Bayern Munich beat Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate, and Davy Russell won the national jump jockey championship after five consecutive runner-up spots during Ruby Walsh's six-year reign.

That's why Dublin hurlers beat Kilkenny in the 2011 league decider and Tipperary beat them in that astonishing 2010 All-Ireland final.

Galway proved again last year that while Kilkenny may be the benchmark they are not infallible.

In professional sport, money can buy a lengthy dominance, which means other teams lose out financially which, in turn, affects their purchasing power and eventually can also affect their support base.

But that argument holds no water in the GAA.

Kilkenny don't have some Russian sugar-daddy buying up all the talent in Thurles and Turloughmore.

Players are home-grown and with few exceptions rarely stray from their native county, and the same can be said of supporters.

Yes, this magnificent Kilkenny machine may have broken your heart more than once and you may envy their talent and dominance.

But watching them invariably enlivens everyone's passion for the sport and makes all who play against them want to become better hurlers. How exactly can that be a bad thing?

Yes says Colm Keys

The Competition Commission in the UK are considering whether to ask Ryanair to offload some of its stake in Aer Lingus because of the threat to rising prices they feel it poses.

The European Commission have already blocked three potential Aer Lingus takeover bids by Ryanair on the same grounds.

For the consumer, competition has to be a core fundamental. It can only be compromised for so long. For the sports fan it's just the same.

As much as there is deep admiration for the ruthless efficiency of Kilkenny hurling over the best part of a decade now, their success has thieved too much of the intrigue from the game.

When Tiger Woods reigned supreme in golf, when Pete Sampras dominated tennis in the 1990s there was much admiration and appreciation too for what they did, but also a great air of inevitability. Within sight of a finish line, they invariably closed the deal.

That same air exists with Kilkenny. Granted, they are not Leinster champions and they required a replay to retain their All-Ireland crown last September. But Galway were still left wondering where it all went wrong, just as Tipperary have been since 2010.

The proof that their dominance has had a negative impact on hurling is best reflected in the fall-off of crowds attending their matches.

Consider this. The crowd for the last Leinster final in 1997 when Wexford beat them, prior to their streak of dominance in the province from 1998 up to last July (they lost just once, to Wexford) was 55,492. Thirteen years on, for Galway's first Leinster final in 2010 which should have been of great novelty value, it was just over half that '97 figure, 28,369. Still a good crowd but a substantial drop nonetheless.

SWELLED

The semi-finals in '97 between Wexford and Offaly, and Kilkenny and Dublin, drew 52,079. It wouldn't be close to that now. Crowds flocked to hurling in the 1990s because there was variety, choice and intrigue. From 1992 to 1997 eight different counties contested six All-Ireland finals, producing four different winners.

Everyone took the the starting grid in the knowledge that they had a chance. Now? All bar two know deep down they are at arm's length.

Even within Kilkenny there is a sense that their bounty of success has had an adverse impact on the game.

After last year's league success against Cork, former GAA president Nickey Brennan wrote in his 'Kilkenny People' column that "for all the enjoyment experienced by Kilkenny supporters following this latest national success, the result has to be hugely worrying for hurling."

Until the public sees more evidence of parity, they won't return.

The impact of Kilkenny's strength has even been felt within the walls of their own dressing-room in recent years. What does it say when players like James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, John Tennyson and John Dalton, a trio who would find their way on to every other starting 15, feel there is no future for them as Kilkenny hurlers at 26 and 27?

The mark of great and enduring champions comes at a cost to so many others.

Irish Independent

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