Tuesday 28 March 2017

Limerick hurling has simply given up the ghost

Everyone is bored witless with the Limerick hurling story, but a solution needs to be found nonetheless. The GAA is running a mile. The public is turning the other way, crossing the street, averting its gaze. The outside world isn't listening anymore. Christy Cooney is right: they need to sort it out for themselves.

There is no hero or magician like George Mitchell waiting in the wings to drive negotiations forward or bring the parties on to a higher plane of thought and consciousness. So, painstakingly, it inches towards the inevitable conclusion. In the meantime, Limerick will keep losing: matches; patience; time; ground to rugby; another year.

Before the current impasse the people who still believed in Limerick hurling, who laid claim to the heritage of 1973 and the historic Mackey era, who yearned for its glorious reincarnation, were facing a steep challenge to win over the new generation. The last decade started with three All-Ireland U21 triumphs -- you could not ask for brighter beginnings. Young lads inspired by the brave and dramatic deeds of Tom Ryan's charges on the playing fields of the 1990s.

The emerging adult hurlers of this decade have had no such reference point; instead they watched their guardians revel in internecine arguments and leave a legacy of disruption and self-ruination.

The decade has spawned a turf war that has spiralled completely out of control. From the mass withdrawal of players, the stand-off has illustrated an alarming gap in understanding between the disputing parties and now no reconciliation is possible without one side making a quantum concession.

The last senior championship game of the decade brought a hiding from Tipperary in Croke Park, events on the field reflected the extent of the chaos behind the scenes. Before that slaughter the year had seen the players become so concerned about the way they were being managed that they convened their own meeting to arrange a gameplan for a crucial qualifier in Wexford.

After these two developments you would have expected an outcry, serious probing and hard talk, but there was no substantive discussion or debate, no stroking of chins or pulling out of hair at the county board meeting held once the season had concluded. There was no anger or fury, and there certainly was no passion, and no soul. Just an acceptance; that's the way it is.

In many ways it was the final surrender. They had died on the pitch and now they were waving a monstrous white flag in the boardroom as well. They had no stomach for the hard call, like they had no stomach for the hard ball in Croke Park against Tipp. Truly, it was a collective collapse, top to bottom.

Is it possible that the Limerick players who have taken a stand against Justin McCarthy are wrong? The county executive line is that the campaign is being manipulated by a small cabal and many of the younger hurlers are simply tagging along. This is to give the impression that they are not as united as they would like to have you believe, and that there is more loyalty towards McCarthy than appears to be the case. One hurler went back to the panel recently but the floodgates weren't opened. A statement quickly followed emphasising that those players will not relent. Either McCarthy goes or they stay outside. It could not be clearer.

On his recent parting, the great Wexford servant Damien Fitzhenry said one of his biggest regrets was the treatment meted out to John Meyler. It was an interesting admission after a lifetime of lows in the purple and gold. Like most of us, he has had to deal with a lot of disappointment, more sad days than happy ones, yet the lingering regret was of something off the field, a development in the twilight of his long career. His choice of Meyler's forced removal left us with the message that the player movement in Wexford at the time was far from united.

In the earlier stages of the Cork insurrection, Alan Browne expressed misgivings about the direction the players were taking. Andy Comerford found himself fairly isolated in Kilkenny. In Dessie Farrell's time a move against Tom Lyons was shelved when some players lost their nerve or found their heart wasn't in that course of action. They weren't united and when it came to the crunch, it showed.

Even if there were reservations in Limerick about quitting the squad, and several players were the nodding kind, the number of absentees spoke volumes for their position on Justin McCarthy. It did not seem a hard line to sell. To start questioning the authenticity of subsequent statements is rather pointless. They put their names to a statement; ergo, they've endorsed it.

DERMOT CROWE

Sunday Independent

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