Friday 24 November 2017

Hurling would benefit from wider All-Ireland title spread - Brennan

Former GAA President Nickey Brennan
Former GAA President Nickey Brennan
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The venue is the same but the mood has changed dramatically since the famous "Hurling in Crisis" remarks made such a big impact on the GAA scene 21 years ago.

Nickey Brennan, who will be back in the Slieve Russell Hotel for this weekend's Congress, recalls his 1994 speech as an attempt to kickstart a real debate about where hurling was heading.

This is the first year since then that Congress will be held at the Ballyconnell venue and, on this occasion, there will be no such worrying sentiments expressed about hurling.

Things were different in 1994, when a certain apathy applied in some quarters.

"I didn't expect my comments would get the reaction they did. I was on a hurling sub-committee, chaired by the late Tommy Barrett, and we had worked hard to get a feeling of where hurling was at around the country, not so much in Tier 1 but further down the line," said Brennan.

"It was a quiet enough Congress so I decided to paint a fairly graphic picture. I didn't in any way change the sense of what we had found out from talking to various people around the country but I suppose I did sensationalise the facts to some degree.

"'Hurling in crisis' was always going to attract attention, which was the aim because we needed to look at the game across the board."

Brennan was Kilkenny chairman at the time and later went on to become Leinster Council chairman and GAA president. He believes there is no comparison between the health of hurling now and in the mid-90s, even if the pool of potential All-Ireland winners is no deeper.

"It was never about thinking that Tier 3 and 4 teams would develop into All-Ireland winners," he said.

"The passion for hurling has to be in a county and if, it's not, all that can be done is ensure that every support is given to those who want to play the game," he said. "That has been done to a large degree. There has been a huge level of investment in hurling over the last 20 years."

Kilkenny had won the 1992 and '93 All-Ireland finals so Brennan could not be accused of choosing a valley period for his own county to claim that hurling was in trouble, He would later go on to manage Kilkenny in 1996-97.

He regards the standard at the higher end of the hurling market as being much higher now than it was back then, due in the main to improvements in training techniques, fitness levels, support for players, equipment and various other advances.

"There's no comparison between then and now in terms of standards. That's no reflection on the past - it's just that the modern game has moved on in the same way as all sports have," he said.

"Having said that, it would be good if we had the sort of All-Ireland title spread that hurling enjoyed in the 1980s and 1990s."

Dominance

Six counties - Offaly (4), Kilkenny (4), Galway (3), Cork (3), Tipperary (2), Clare (2) and Wexford (1) - won All-Ireland titles between 1980 and '98 in a broad spread that suggested the dominance of the 'Big 3' had ended.

However, Kilkenny (10), Cork (3), Tipperary (2) have won 15 of the last 16 titles, a sequence broken only by Clare (2013).

"You'd like to see a greater spread and you probably would have if Kilkenny hadn't produced such an incredible amount of talent over such a long period," said Brennan.

"Still, I have no doubt that, overall, hurling a whole is in a much better place now than it was in 1994."

Brennan's 'Hurling in Crisis' speech appeared to concentrate minds into pushing hurling's needs up the agenda. They also helped in widening the debate on the format of the All-Ireland championship. Three years later, the 'back door' was open for the first time, allowing the beaten Leinster and Munster finalists to re-enter the All-Ireland championship.

Away from hurling, the changes in GAA affairs over the last 21 years is captured by the financial returns.

Total income in 1994 was €4.9m, compared with €56.2m last year while gate receipts zoomed from €3.5m to €29.4m.

Irish Independent

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