Thursday 20 June 2019

Kildare hurling plunged into crisis after management quits over cuts in funding


KILDARE hurling was in crisis last night after senior county manager Willie Sunderland and his entire backroom team stepped down.

Sunderland, who took charge in 2011 and guided the team to a Division 2B title earlier this year, announced his decision to resign in the dressing room following training on Friday night.

"I don't feel too good about it," Sunderland told the Sunday Independent yesterday. "I feel really sad and very sorry for the 25-30 players that are putting in a serious effort for me and for Kildare.

"But there have been cracks in the whole link with the county board for the past few months and they have widened to an extent that I feel I'm just not in control of the team anymore.

"We have had serious issues with basic stuff, like the availability of physios, pitches and trying to get challenge matches before we make a step up and play the likes of Westmeath, Wicklow, Laois, Kerry and Derry in Division 2A. One of my players got injured last Sunday morning at training and I didn't even have an ice pack to give him, never mind a physio.

"We have been told that all county teams have to train together – hurling and football – on the same night and share physios. That's fine, but we've been designated pitch number four at Hawkfield. There are floodlights there, but the problem is they are not attached to the generator."

Sunderland confirmed that his fellow selectors Mattie Dowd and Don McSweeney and coach Bertie Sherlock have all stepped down too.

The Lilywhite board has been struggling to fight an ongoing financial crisis, with their running deficit rising to over €700,000.

The county has already been subject to a financial overseer, the former Munster Council secretary Simon Moroney, since April as part of the conditions for a €300,000 cash advance from Croke Park.

"I'm a reasonable man, I know we're in very tough recessionary times and I know the county board is in a crisis with finances," added Sunderland. "But, from what I can see, €75,000 has been made available to Kildare hurling teams in 2013. I have to try and prepare a team to play league and championship out of that, and the minors and under 21s have to be looked after too.

"I know where the county board is coming from. I have sat down with them at the start of the season before and worked through things. But at a meeting last Wednesday night I was due to meet the county board chairman and the hurling board chairman. There were other people at the meeting and the bottom line is we're being cut, cut, cut. But we've just been cut to the bone now. And the future of Kildare hurling, if there is to be one, deserves better.

"I won't tolerate not being able to plan properly, not being able to arrange challenge matches, having players getting injured with not even an ice pack to give them.

"Last year we spent €105,000 on teams – we're going up a level in senior hurling next year and so we've already had to factor in an extra 10 training sessions to try and bridge that gap. We've had 25 lads out training in the freezing cold to try and make that leap. But the way things have panned out over the last few months and weeks have just not been sustainable and we've made our decision."

The Kildare board has cut expenditure massively, launched a number of fundraising initiatives and are in the process of securing a new sponsor, which they hope to have in place by mid-January.

But the loss of Sunderland is a huge blow to the hurling community.

His departure comes just days after they lost their most promising young talent, Conor Kenny, who has decided to transfer to Tipperary club Borris-Ileigh where his father, Tony, hails from. Kenny, a prolific scorer at senior and under 21 level for Kildare in recent years, is expected to be in contention for a place in the Tipp under 21 squad next season.

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