Riled Cats rhetoric might be best left on the sidelines

Frank Roche

FORGIVE our cynicism but, with a new hurling league season upon us, it's high-time this column donned a helmet. Not just to safeguard against a misdirected sliotar flying at 90mph; you are equally liable to be KO'd in the crossfire as brickbats are launched from the managerial bunker at Nowlan Park.

There is something truly awesome – frightening perhaps – about 'Team Kilkenny' when cornered or when its modus operandi is questioned.

Galway manager Anthony Cunningham discovered so during that admittedly nerve-shredding climax to last September's drawn All-Ireland final, as sideline tensions famously erupted between himself and Brian Cody. Cunningham's team made the same discovery, even more painfully, as the resurgent Cats romped home in the replay.

Now it's the turn of Liam O'Neill, no less, to get caught in a Black-and-Amber pincer movement. You see, Kilkenny don't like this dastardly new regulation limiting sideline access to five backroom personnel. No surprise there: the controversial diktat has inspired a predictably widespread onslaught of managerial opprobrium, with several team doctors adding their frustrated voice to the debate.

But Kilkenny have gone further – they haven't just 'pulled' on the ball (ie, the rule) but on the man too.

"I've never heard such negative comment from within the association about the association. I don't understand it. To say we're going to clean up the sideline ... from what?" asked Cody (right), in full rhetorical flight, at a Kilkenny sponsorship announcement last Thursday.

He later added: "We keep reading about the Uachtarán saying he would prefer the rugby set-up. Why? What's wrong with the GAA set-up?"

Cody spoke at length about why he believes it's a "bad, bad rule". His trusted selector, Martin Fogarty, then took up the baton when releasing a lengthy statement to a national newspaper on Sunday night. Again, some of Fogarty's points – such as highlighting the difficulty of asking two hurley carriers to look after 40 hurls while also delivering water to players spread over an area of 145m x 90m – sound reasonably valid.

But in the same statement, he likens the process that led to the passing of this new rule as a "dictatorship". He accuses Liam O'Neill of "sticking in the boot at every opportunity and finding problems where there are none", adding that his "recent outburst against managers is outrageous."


Strong stuff, for sure, and scarcely justified. Whether a rule is flawed or otherwise, does that give you grounds to question the democracy of a decision made by an elected body, ie Central Council? Especially by using such emotive words as dictatorship?

True, in a democracy, everyone is entitled to have their say. But the fact that a Kilkenny selector issued a 1,215-word statement, just days after his manager had spoken at length on the same topic, makes you wonder if an orchestrated campaign is afoot.

Amid all the flying ash, let's not forget one salient point. This rule would never have been invoked if all GAA sidelines were a modicum of orderly behaviour. They're not.

For several years, there have been too many bodies milling around and this is a recipe for occasional disorderly chaos, sometimes even worse (last year's infamous All-Ireland junior semi-final between Derrytresk and Dromid Pearses).

And then, of course, you had last September's verbal spat involving Cunningham and Cody with another Kilkenny selector, Michael Dempsey, an equally willing participant in the, ahem, debate. Yes, the pressure was intense but if Kilkenny had kept their counsel then, who knows, they mightn't have to be shouting from the bunker now.