Wicklow hurling may have gone through a lean time in recent years, but MarkKennedy finds new county manager John Mitchell in upbeat mood Wicklow can win Kehoe and Ring Cups in 2007
4The health of adult hurling in Wicklow has been far from robust in recent years, with the senior championship reduced to a two horse race.
Even before a sliothar was struck, it has been a foregone conclusion that Carnew and Glenealy would contest the senior final, alternating the championship title between them in the last few years.
Six teams in total take part and the championship is devoid of any meaningful competitive edge until its reaches the semi-final knockout stage.
Yet, despite the decline in standards within the county, John Mitchell is upbeat about Wicklow's prospects at inter-county level as he takes on the daunting task of managing the county team.
No way does he see taking on the job of Wicklow's hurling manager as being a poisoned chalice. 'I would see it a job of work to be done. There is tremendous hurling potential in Wicklow as well as the passion and commitment amongst the players'' he says.
Since taking over at the helm, John Mitchell, who played in goal for Wicklow in the 1970s and 80s, has visited every hurling club in the county and the message he is bringing to them is that 'the hurling ability is here and I see no reason why Wicklow should be beaten by any other county in its grade'.
The Kilmacud Crokes man spent 18 hours in Wicklow on a recent Sunday and got a terrific response from every club he met. 'Hardly anyone has said no to me so far and I think that we can win the Christy Ring Cup in 2007. That's my goal for next year. I believe the players of ability are here in Wicklow and their attitude is both very good and positive,' he says.
John Mitchell, who has seen the Bray intermediate team playing three times since his appointment as county team manager as well as watching the senior semi-finals and finals, has trawled the county to find the best players for his panel.
He has called a meeting of the 30 to 40 players who will make up that panel for January 7 and training will then start straight away.
'We will start physical training at first to build up our fitness levels. Having seen the county final, I believe that our skills level is as good as that of Dublin, but our play and delivery of those skills may not be as quite as quick.
'The basics are there amongst our players but we need to up the tempo of our game all the time. I will be looking for 100 percent commitment from players; you just cannot be half committed to a cause and hope to succeed'' he says.
In addition to the physical training, which will be upped to two nights during the week as it progresses, there will be a match at weekends. John Mitchell expects to have his team ready to take on and beat Louth in the Kehoe Cup on January 28 and then go on and win that competition. 'I do not see any other team in the Kehoe Cup that we are not capable of beating,' he says.
One thing that John Mitchell wants to see happing within the county is that structures are changed so that players get more games and more hurling.
'There is not enough hurling being played in Wicklow at the moment. Players need to feel comfortable with a hurley in their hands and you can only do that by playing hurling all the time. We need more club hurling in the county. This is not directly my business but it does impact on what I am doing.
'I am a person who wants to win everything for Wicklow in 2007. Winning the Christy Ring Cup is the top objective and I believe that is achievable if the players have the commitment and passion. I come to the county with no baggage and I am available the seven days a week if necessary. Probably everything else will suffer but I want to give a really good shot at this,' he says.
John Mitchell has brought in Kilmacud clubmate Sean Maher to be one of his selectors. Sean's father John was a top Kilkenny hurler in the 1950s and won an All-Ireland medal with the Cats. Sean has been involved at underage level with John Mitchell at Kilmacud Crokes and the fact that he lives in Bray means that he also knows a bit about the Wicklow hurling scene as well.
The other selectors who will be working with John Mitchell are Tommy Glynn, Glenealy; Sean Keogh, Kiltegan, and Maurice Molloy, Carnew.
John Mitchell is a man of long experience in the game. He first hit the national headlines as the goalkeeper on the Cork team that won the U-21 hurling All-Ireland in 1966 after a final win over Wexford that went to three games.
A sub goalie on the Cork team in the All-Ireland final of 1969, he won a Fitzgibbon Cup medal with UCC in 1966/7 and was on the losing side in the final the following year. He first came to the notice of Wicklow when he was in goal for London in the All-Ireland intermediate semi-final of 1971.
Mitchell subsequently threw in his lot with Wicklow and was between the posts when they beat Carlow in the senior B championship that year. 1981/2 was his most successful season with Wicklow when whey won Division 2 of the NHL after wins over Meath Roscommon, Armagh, Down, Mayo and Kildare.