O'Neill eager to drive hurling renaissance
INCOMING GAA president Liam O'Neill insists the National Hurling Development plan launched in Croke Park yesterday "has to work" because hurling is "hanging on by a thread" in some counties.
The wide-ranging programme includes the ongoing roll-out of the new 13-county Tain leagues which comprise the nine Ulster counties and Longford, Louth, Leitrim, Sligo; the establishment of a National Hurling and Camogie development centre on the Waterford IT campus; and the appointment of 'hurling mentors' who will provide coaching and support to counties seeking assistance.
And O'Neill -- who chaired the Committee that produced the report -- insists that with hurling fixtures "guarded for a part of the year", the game has a chance to flourish in 'lesser' counties like never before -- the document guarantees that Tain league matches must take precedence over certain football games.
"We couldn't believe how thin a thread hurling is hanging on in some of these counties," O'Neill said.
"It was only after we did the work and investigated that we found out how weak hurling really is and we said that we have to develop the club hurling. I think that is one of the most significant things to happen in the history of the organisation.
"We now have a 13-county, 60-team conglomerate with the imprimatur of Central Council that no fixture can be made in opposition to them. If someone told me five years ago that you would get, in the nine developing counties, a situation where that could be brought about, you would have said that this was crazy."
The GAA's head of games Pat Daly acted as secretary on the committee and stated that separating hurling and football completely was never considered, and that there was hope more games could be played in the summer months when the plan takes root.
"The history of hurling boards hasn't been a good history," Daly said.
"In counties where we have had hurling boards it hasn't worked out well. All of the indications are that if we went back down that road, we wouldn't be making progress.
"The reality is that both games have to work together.
"We were conscious of the start on February 4 (for the Tain leagues) which is early, but this is only a start.
"People in Cork would traditionally say that St Patrick's Day was time enough to be starting playing hurling; however, now having started, we will be able to progress. The important thing was taking the first step and getting the competition up and running, and I think we'll be able to look at different options as we go along."
O'Neill, who takes over as president in April, also insisted that the development of hurling isn't automatically at odds with the interests of football in those counties.
"We didn't see this as confrontation with football at all, we saw it as the need to develop hurling because it was so weak in some counties that they were fielding county teams based on no more than three adult club teams," he said.
"We just said that we had to change the situation and develop club hurling first, rather than focus on football, or the battle with football -- we just said that we will give hurling first place."