Sport Hurling

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Model prima donnas betray heroes of '96

Wexford boss Colm Bonnar, laments the absence of several young players who have turned their backs on the inter-county team - which still plays in the shadows of the All-Ireland winning side of 1996.
Wexford boss Colm Bonnar, laments the absence of several young players who have turned their backs on the inter-county team - which still plays in the shadows of the All-Ireland winning side of 1996.
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

COLM Bonnar's revelation that some young hurlers in Wexford had rejected his invitation to join the county's senior squad sent me reaching for Tom Williams' book 'With Hand and Heart', which was published in late 1996.

It was a joyous time for Wexford as they celebrated a first All-Ireland hurling title for 28 years. That overdue success had, according to Williams, "restored self-belief and made everyone in Wexford once again proud to be part of an old and noble county, a place where unspoiled and unpaid young hurling men had unselfishly given their time and effort to play the best field game in the world, brilliantly and skilfully".

Indeed they had. For years they endured frustration and disappointment, plus disparaging jokes (Why did the crocodile swim away from a man wearing a 'Wexford for the All-Ireland' T-shirt? Because even a crocodile wouldn't swallow that) but they never allowed their resolve to be diluted and were finally rewarded in 1996.

Imagine how they must feel now when they hear that a section of a brave new generation, who as youngsters dreamed of being like Martin Storey, Liam Dunne, Tom Dempsey and Co, couldn't be bothered trying their luck with Wexford.

Bonnar asked some of them but they weren't interested. It seems playing in Division 2 is beneath their noble station. Us playing in Division 2? Really, who do you think we are? Carlow? Hang on, didn't Carlow beat Wexford in the league some weeks back? Indeed they did. The reason Wexford are in Division 2 is because one win from five in 2008 left them outside the top flight when the league was restructured, and they failed to win promotion last year.

showdown

They lost out to Offaly in the Division 2 final 12 months ago and are facing a similar showdown against Clare on Sunday. Bonnar claims that if Wexford lose and head for a third successive season in Division 2, it will have such a demotivating impact on players that even some seasoned campaigners will be questioning if it's worth it.

Bonnar wants Division 1 expanded to include the likes of Wexford, Clare and Limerick, all of whom have been hit with relegation in recent seasons. He believes that a format which is suited to football is being applied to hurling and that it's having a seriously negative impact on teams who are struggling to squeeze into the top eight.

He's right. Teams like Wexford, Clare, Offaly, Limerick and Laois would be better off playing the top guns every year rather than finding themselves in Division 2 which offers only one escape chute per season.

The 12-team Division 1 system (divided into two sixes) applied up to 2008 but it's now similar to football, with only the leading eight in the top flight. Unlike football, there's a wide variation between Divisions 1 and 2 (bottom end) in hurling. Besides, it's two-up, two-down in football and one-up, one-down in hurling.

Bonnar's argument that hurling should operate off a system which is carefully tailored to meet its particular needs is logical. Unlike football, where the gap between top and bottom isn't as wide, hurling needs to be calibrated with great precision to avoid mis-matches, while at the same time giving all counties a chance to compete at a level which helps their development.

Slotting eight counties into Division 1 and then restricting access/exit to one team per season will always lead to an uneven Division 2, made up of some counties who are quite close to the top eight and others who are some way off the pace. Neither group benefits from the current format.

Bonnar's unhappiness with the system is understandable in terms of hurling's broader interest but it still beggars belief that there are players in Wexford who won't join the county panel because the team is in Division 2. If they think they're that good why not join up and win promotion? Then again, if a player doesn't deem it a sufficiently high honour to wear the county jersey irrespective of what division they're in, he could hardly be relied on to have the necessary fibre or character to cope with pressurised situations. Frankly, Bonnar is better off without players of that mentality.

George O'Connor is doing a fine job as Regeneration Hurling Officer for Wexford and hopes are high that his work with youngsters will bear fruit on the inter-county fields in due course.

Meanwhile, Wexford will be seeking promotion on Sunday without the assistance of some players who think Division 2 is unworthy of their silken skills.

God, wouldn't you love to let O'Connor and the 1996 boys loose on them for a while.

league double would be superb feat for rebels

It may not have quite the same status as an All-Ireland double but winning both League Division 1 titles will still be quite an achievement if the Cork hurlers deliver on it next Sunday.

It has been done only once in the 84-year history of the competitions and, yes, Cork were the dual winners. They had home advantage on the double in 1980 as the footballers beat Kerry and the hurlers beat Limerick in a replay in the finals at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

However, Cork's dominance didn't carry into the championships where the footballers lost the Munster final heavily to Kerry and the hurlers were beaten by Limerick. It's difficult to envisage anybody beating Cork footballers easily (if indeed at all) while it stretches credibility to breaking point to expect Limerick hurlers to make any progress in Munster.

Irish Independent

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