Tuesday 20 February 2018

A question for Westmeath's fixture gurus: Did you show respect to all your players?

Westmeath and Raharney forward James Goonery was one of several young hurlers being asked to play in the county minor and senior finals on the same day
Westmeath and Raharney forward James Goonery was one of several young hurlers being asked to play in the county minor and senior finals on the same day
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

When Westmeath minor hurlers beat Wexford in the Leinster quarter-final last May, their manager Johnny Greville described it as the "biggest result in the history of Westmeath hurling".

That might have been a slight exaggeration but in the euphoria which enveloped the camp, it was perfectly understandable.

Victory was, after all, achieved in Innovate Wexford Park against a home team that had taken Kilkenny - the eventual Leinster winners - to extra-time in an earlier round, before losing by a point.

The extent of the shock felt in Wexford was reflected in the Wexford People by experienced sports writer Alan Aherne.

"Wexford should never lose a championship game at home to Westmeath no matter what level of hurling - it's just not good enough," he wrote.

Westmeath lost the semi-final to Dublin but, overall, the season was regarded as hugely progressive, even if a rather unfortunate spat between Greville and the county board erupted later over the latter's decision not to enter a team in the minor 'B' championship.


It passed but Greville's public frustration over an apparent problem in communication on the issue left the clear impression that all parties weren't pulling in the same direction.

Move on to last Sunday and the bizarre situation which arose when Raharney and Clonkill were booked in for a senior and county minor final double-header.

Since both clubs had a player overlap between the panels, they sought a postponement of the minor final, only to be refused by the county board. The clubs stood firm and refused to fulfil the fixture.

Eight of the players that started against Wexford in May are from Raharney and Clonkill. Obviously, they are talented lads, who need to be encouraged in every way.

Yet, some of them were thrown into a ridiculous situation where they were double-booked for two big games on the same afternoon. How unfair is that? The county board insist that the clubs backed the senior/minor double-up proposal at annual Convention last December.

Why was it even on the agenda? Fixture planning should never be decided by county Convention because it's too large and unwieldy to take account of the various issues that invariably emerge.

Did anyone raise the possibility of clubs having minors and seniors in the county final?

And if they didn't, surely it was up to the board leadership to point out the potential for conflict.

Instead, Westmeath walked straight into a damaging controversy where young players were the losers. All this at a time when there are real signs of progress in underage hurling in the county as shown by the minors advance this season, while the U-21s were unlucky to lose to Dublin in last year's Leinster semi-final.

That the dispute could have been easily avoided adds to the sense that this was a case of crashing into an obstacle rather than manoeuvring around it.

Double-booking on county final day is nothing new of course. Kildare ran into a major row last year when Sarsfields had several players overlapping between the minor and senior football squads.

The club objected but had to be content with a compromise where a hurling final was played between the football finals, leaving the minors on the senior squad with two hours between games. Any wonder that player welfare issues continue to be a problem in the GAA?

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