Cyril Farrell: Why the GAA must stop betraying its identity
WITH friends like the GAA's fixture makers, who needs enemies? Fixing the NHL finals for 5.0 and 7.0 tomorrow has done hurling a disgraceful disservice.
Those responsible have also betrayed the GAA's identity by hiding away a prize asset. Don't get me wrong. I love all sports, including rugby (my interest started as a kid when my late father brought me to watch Ireland and Connacht) and was delighted to see Croke Park opened up five years ago.
It's great to see Irish rugby going well but has the GAA reached a stage where times of their own league finals -- the second most important competitions -- are to be decided by other sports?
The idiocy of the evening throw-ins tomorrow is clear. The Munster rugby game will run from 3.15 to around 4.55, yet Clare-Wexford starts at 5.0. Those who watch the rugby at home will hardly get to Thurles in five minutes and, as for Cork and Galway fans, can you see them dashing to the hurling game after 5.0?
What the GAA are saying is that people who want to attend the hurling games and watch the rugby on TV should go to a pub in Thurles before heading up to Semple. In effect, the GAA are promoting rugby, Sky and the pubs.
Sunday afternoon is prime GAA time so the league finals should have been played at 2.0 and 4.0, same as with the football last Sunday. If people want to stay in a pub (and remember many don't have Sky Sports at home) that's their choice but those whose first love is hurling should have their games at the usual time.
Instead, they're facing long journeys home late at night. Worse than that, changing the time makes a statement that the GAA don't regard it's own league finals as important enough to run on a Sunday afternoon because they're up against rugby.
Sporting ecumenicism is all very fine but the line has to be drawn somewhere. We had a situation on Good Friday where the law was changed to facilitate people who wanted to combine rugby with drink. It seemed to go unnoticed that the IRFU are major stakeholders in the Magners League, yet a game was fixed for one of the two days in the year when pubs are closed. Were they asleep when the fixture was made?
A few weeks earlier, the FAI fixed an international soccer game for London when Croke Park was available. Where was the national interest at a time of recession? How much criticism did the FAI get for their unpatriotic behaviour? Sod all!
It's time the GAA reasserted its identity and instead of cowering under the challenge of televised rugby they should have played the league finals tomorrow afternoon, marketed them relentlessly in conjunction with sponsors, Allianz, who must be bemused by how craven Croke Park has become.
Instead, the GAA has downgraded its own games, the punishment for which will be small crowds in Thurles. Small, that is, by comparison to what there would be if the games were played earlier. Come on, Croke Park, start asserting yourself on behalf of the games you're entrusted to preserve and promote.
Cork's rise a sight for sore eyes
THOSE who do travel to Thurles tomorrow will be rewarded with two excellent contests. For what it's worth, I think it will be a Munster double with Cork and Clare taking the Division 1 and 2 titles.
Cork and Galway (with the exception of the aberration against Tipperary) have been very impressive so far but you'd have to say that Cork's rate of progress has been the most significant aspect of the league.
In fairness, it has been more a question of getting back to the heights we expect of them than anything else but it's a welcome sight after the rows and ructions which undermined them in recent seasons.
Hurling needs all its top counties going well which makes the current Limerick row all the more depressing.
Cork's use of 'twin towers', Michael Cussen and Aisake O hAilpin in attack is very interesting in that it's a departure from the style they used throughout most of the last decade but if this pair click, it could be very effective, not just tomorrow but also in the championship.
Galway too have a mixture of the experienced and the new with the latter wing represented by Donal Barry, David Burke and Aidan Harte. In many ways, Galway need to win this final more than Cork, especially after having a bad experience in Thurles against Waterford last year. It's important for them to put down a marker, but there's a finer balance to the Cork team, which could make the crucial difference.
As for the Division 2 final, I have a slight fancy for Clare but, on the wider issue, I think both of them should be in Division 1. I can't see how it serves hurling to have counties like Offaly, Clare, Wexford and Limerick in Division 2 in successive seasons. If Wexford lose tomorrow, it means they will be in Division 2 for a third successive year in 2011.
The argument that if they were good enough, they would be in Division 1 is not valid. Just because you're not quite strong enough to be in the top eight doesn't mean you shouldn't get a chance to play the leading counties. Running hurling on the same basis as football simply doesn't work.