'Counties want to quit hurling'
GAA president tells Martin Breheny that some of the game's minnows believe it's time to stop fielding teams
A number of counties would like to withdraw from the senior inter-county hurling schedule because they lack the quality to compete at a level that justifies the cost of fielding teams.
GAA president Liam O'Neill confirmed that some senior officials had recently questioned the wisdom of continuing to field inter-county teams from very limited playing resources. He didn't specify which counties had aired their reservations.
Cavan is the only county that doesn't currently field a senior hurling team, having withdrawn a few seasons ago to concentrate on developing the game at juvenile level.
"Cavan took one of the bravest steps of all by saying that they weren't up to inter-county level," O'Neill said. "They said they'd go back and develop the game and see if they could come up with a juvenile structure that would make them competitive again."
Speaking in Shanghai on the final day of the hurling All Stars tour, O'Neill said that some other counties felt that they would be better off without a county team.
"There was an interesting chairpersons and secretaries meeting to discuss the hurling plan, where a number of counties expressed a view that they probably should not be playing inter-county hurling," he said.
O'Neill believes a debate needs to take place as to whether hurling would be better served in some weaker counties by concentrating solely on club and juvenile activity initially.
Asked if he thought counties should be put under more pressure to work on improving the standard of their county teams, he said that co-operation rather than coercion was the way forward.
"The unity of camogie and hurling will help us develop hurling better because all the family will be playing," he said. "You'll go along to a family and say, 'we can give your children a hurling life and a camogie life'.
"You can't cure everything overnight. Even in a strong county, it took the Galway hurling plan of the mid-1960s to yield the 1970s and 1980s teams. How many years has it taken to bring Dublin – a hurling county with a really strong tradition – to a stage where they're competitive in the top four again?"
The issue of co-operation with other sports in sharing facilities is back on the agenda. While the GAA will always maintain control of its own facilities, O'Neill said that sharing with others needed to be considered in certain situations. He believes that as the GAA expands its operation, more facilities will be required.
"We cannot tie our hands behind our back by saying we're not going to use grounds because they are used by other sports," he said. "That involves working with municipal and county authorities to ensure that the GAA is catered for in any development work.
"There could be space for two soccer pitches which, when turned around, make one GAA pitch. We have to do that. Anyway, we're using facilities put in by sports partnerships across the country. They might be envisaged primarily for soccer but we're renting them. That's happening all around the country.
"Would I have a problem with a new complex being opened in an area like, for instance, west Dublin, where soccer, rugby, Gaelic football, hurling and camogie were played side by side?
"Absolutely not, because without that we won't be able to provide facilities. We should be prepared to co-operate with anything that can give us access to facilities."
On the playing front, O'Neill said that he was looking forward to the introduction of the black card in football next year and would also like to see it used in hurling. He believes it will help eradicate cynical fouling, which has been a major problem in Gaelic football in particular for many years.
The GAA is also planning to crack down on the use of bad language, abusing or threatening opponents and referees and making racist comments.
"We will be coming to Congress with a motion on how to deal with those who abuse people because of their race, colour or sexual preference," he said.
However, while that will provide the technical framework to tackle the problem, O'Neill believes that education is the only long-term solution.
"There needs to be an education process so that if individuals abuse somebody else, they have to go through some form of personal relations course," he said. "We are living in a multi-cultural society. We have to respect that."