'The GAA have had 100 years to bridge that gap to the other 21 counties and have never done it. Is this not a massive failure?'
I write the following with my Carlow hurling goggles firmly on, as a present Carlow hurler/fan with a worry for what's ahead. They are many counties the same but I'm just sharing my Carlow perspective. I understand many will disagree. That's OK.
Firstly, I understand the consequences of finishing bottom of the Leinster Liam MacCarthy group meant demotion to the Joe McDonagh for Carlow. I believe we have got to experience Liam MacCarthy hurling to learn from it.
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At the moment I believe Carlow are about eight-14 points behind the teams we played; but how do we ever get this gap closer if, in a best-case scenario, we just yo-yo up and down from 'Joe Mac'?
This year the intensity, hurling ability, tactics and preparation from opposition teams and from us against opposing opposition was something that Carlow hurling never experienced before. And I do believe the experience will provide growth.
I live and breathe Carlow hurling and I'm too worried about the future of Carlow hurling to not at least ask these questions of the GAA: Is Carlow going down to the Joe McDonagh the best thing for Carlow hurling? What's a best-case scenario here for Carlow over the next one, five or 10 years?
Why is there a relegation from Leinster but not from Munster? Regardless if we're even at Waterford's level yet it is still hugely unfair. Relegating Waterford would be wrong because it wouldn't do anything for Waterford hurling and it's a shame the same doesn't apply to Carlow.
Hurling has nine top counties all at a relatively similar level. For 100 years - aside from Offaly and Antrim - no other teams have featured in the All-Ireland. The GAA have had 100 years to bridge that gap to the other 21 counties and have never done it. Is this not a massive failure?
For Carlow to close the gap, similar to Laois, Westmeath etc, we need serious help from the GAA, serious financial help, serious coaching, more officers and planning.
The nine counties ahead of us have heavy financial backing; big hurling populations, development officers and sponsors - well ahead of Carlow.
Incidentally, I'm not asking that the top nine counties lose any of this, rather help the counties of Carlow, Laois, Westmeath etc to also become exposed to the same resources.
For example, our training for pre-championship was a day in Tramore while other counties in the Liam MacCarthy in 2019 are able to head to a foreign country for a full week's training and tactics.
It's not the making of a successful team but it helps to show the gulf between the counties.
For example, coaching grants from Croke Park 2007-2018: Dublin €17,916,477 and Carlow €856,897.
Let's talk per player then and not population, which works out at €144.50 per Carlow player versus €457.09 per player in Dublin.
Games development funds in 2018 for Dublin were €1,303,630 and €128,733 for Carlow.
Another massive issue is how big counties are able to work off huge sponsorship deals compared to smaller counties but they still receive the same levels of central funding.
Nine of the 10 Liam MacCarthy teams had games shown live, one team hadn't. One team had a two-minute voiceover every Sunday night with every other team having highlights/analysis. One of the 10 teams needs the promotion more than the other nine and that one team is obviously Carlow.
At least a two-minute voiceover was more than the zero coverage the Joe MacDonagh teams got, with those counties also crying out for promotion. This is why Gaelic footballers don't want a second tier because they know it will get no respect or coverage.
This year Carlow hurling had good attendances for the first time in my career - it had colour, it had kids playing hurling more than ever, it had a buzz within the county. Take the Liam MacCarthy away and Carlow hurling loses that.
Does Carlow hurling go quietly and make as little noise as possible, take this as our peak and say, 'Thanks for the memories', and just watch as the county eventually slips backwards and spend the next 100 years where we've spent the last 100?
I sometimes think that the other 21 counties would be better coming together and boycotting the GAA until serious promotion, financial aid and planning is put in place to help them climb to these levels.
Carlow hurling is at a crossroads. Like many counties, there is an ambitious, talented group doing their best at the moment. For the next while we can try to squeeze as much as we can out of the little we have.
As this generation moves on though the hurling population may continue to decrease in Carlow, the county might slide back down the ladder and all we'll have will be good memories.
If the GAA really helped and wanted to see us continue climbing the ladder, I believe we might at least have a better chance at long-term success. With the present way, we definitely don't. Noise might help, but no noise certainly won't.
- Paul Coady is a current Carlow hurler