Saturday 23 November 2019

Carlow wake-up call highlights need to divide the wealth fairly

Ciaran Kilkenny, Dublin
Ciaran Kilkenny, Dublin
Sean Murphy, Carlow, in action against Ross McGowan and Conor McHugh, Dublin
The scoreboard tells the story of Carlow's hammering by Dublin in the Leinster U-21 Football Championship
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Imagine if the county board chairman from Dublin, Kerry, Galway or Tyrone made the following comment: "We have to do some serious soul-searching because if this continues to happen, we'll have no inter-county football teams."

Instant reaction would be sought from Liam O'Neill; provincial councils would be quizzed too, while former players would wail about how they "never thought it would come to this" before demanding that Croke Park intervene.

Meanwhile, the media would power into overdrive.

Yet, when a county board chairman offered that bleak prognosis last week, it went largely unnoticed. But then the comment didn't come from a big county, but rather from Carlow.

So, the small fry have a problem. Sure, what can you expect? They'll be grand in the end. They always have been. It's all about survival and they know how to do that.

Really? Is it that simple? Perhaps, but then again it could be a case of ignoring the uncomfortable because it's the easier option.

Carlow chairman Michael Meaney made the statement the day after his county's U-21 footballers were demolished by Dublin in the Leinster championship for a second successive year, on a combined scoreline of 6-55 to 0-5.

Last year's 37-point defeat obviously took its toll among Carlow's young guns as, according to Meaney, up to 10 players didn't make themselves available this year "either because they seem to think they're too good to play for Carlow or were afraid to play Dublin."

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Both excuses are pathetic and, if accurate, don't reflect well on a section of Carlow youth.

Still, there's another issue here, one that requires consideration from the wider GAA world.

Could there be a more worrying message than a chairman expressing fears that his county might not field inter-county teams at some stage in the future?

Kilkenny have left the senior football arena again, having returned for a period; Cavan have no senior hurling team and there are other weaker hurling counties considering if they would be better off playing football only.

It's an understandable, if not exactly ambitious, sentiment at the bottom end of the hurling market, but it's altogether different when a county like Carlow is worried that it may have no future in football.

In an ironic twist, Carlow seniors ended a lengthy wait for a win when beating Antrim in the Allianz League on Sunday, just four days after the U-21 trauma.

It was a welcome break for Anthony Rainbow and his players, but it's still disconcerting for the loyal band of football people in Carlow to hear that there are serious concerns at official level over the future.

Clearly, there's no easy solution to the inequality which exists between larger, richer counties and their smaller, poorer counterparts, but the need to find some balance has never been greater.

If that involves positive discrimination when allocating resources, then it needs to be done.

It would be easy to dismiss Meaney's comments about Carlow football as an overreaction to a bad night in the U-21 championship, but there may be more to it than that.

A subtle shift has gone on in Carlow, with hurling making impressive progress, not least at club level, where Mount Leinster Rangers are preparing for their great All-Ireland adventure against Portumna in Croke Park next on Monday.

DECLINE

Carlow senior hurlers are joint leaders in Division 2A, and, of course, last year the U-21s beat a highly-rated Dublin side in the Leinster quarter-final.

It's good to see Carlow hurling advancing so substantially, but it would be disappointing if it was accompanied by a further decline in football.

The division of wealth has become a major issue in the GAA, with the gap between large and small widening on an unacceptably disproportionate basis.

There was, no doubt, a massive difference in the amount spent on the Carlow and Dublin U-21 teams that clashed last week.

And when it comes to senior level, Carlow and Dublin players live in totally different worlds. So do many others in the 'rich v poor' divide.

The GAA can't alter the size and population imbalances between counties, but it can control how finances are shared out so as to give everybody the best possible chance of reaching their potential.

A board chairman suggesting that his county might not field football teams at some stage in the future seems like a good time to take stock.

Murtagh's punishing schedule the perfect recipe for burnout

Diarmuid Murtagh (19) scored 0-3 from open play for Roscommon in their league win over Fermanagh last Sunday.

Tonight he plays for the U-21s against Mayo in the Connacht championship; the seniors will play Offaly next Sunday and, if the U-21s win tonight, they will be in action again next Wednesday against Sligo.

It's a hectic schedule but then Murtagh (left) has been so busy so far this year that you really do wonder if the fixture-makers have ever heard of burnout.

The Roscommon teenager's workload between January 1 and February 28, charted by Seamus Duke in the 'Roscommon People', provides a perfect illustration of the ridiculous demands on underage players.

According to Duke's research, Murtagh had football commitments (games and training) with Roscommon (seniors and U-21s), St Patrick's College, Drumcondra and his club, St Faithleach's on least 45 of the 59 days in January-February.

He's one of many in the same unsustainable boat which, despite all the talk about protecting young players, continues to steam ahead in dangerous waters.

Computer still spitting out fixture glitches

The computer which spits out the fixtures for the Allianz Leagues has always had a rogue chip and it certainly didn't change its eccentric ways this year.

With counties playing an uneven number of games and with relegation/promotion adding to the challenge of streamlining the 'home' and 'away' splits, some inconsistencies are unavoidable, but that does not explain why there are so many repeat venues this year.

Try these games from Division 1 football and 1A hurling alone, in which the first named enjoyed home advantage in both 2013 and 2014.

Football: Dublin v Cork; Dublin v Mayo; Mayo v Kerry; Kildare v Kerry; Kerry v Cork; Cork v Kildare.

Hurling: Clare v Waterford; Clare v Galway; Clare v Kilkenny; Tipperary v Clare; Kilkenny v Waterford; Galway v Tipperary.

Isn't it time to invest in a new computer?

Irish Independent

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