Friday 6 December 2019

Young blasts Laois board as hurling descends to new low in county

Controversial Laois star James Young believes more should be done to rectify the county's hurling crisis, writes Damian Lawlor

FORMER Laois hurler and two-time All Star nominee James Young has called on the county board executive to resign following a disastrous season for the O'Moore men.

The Clonaslee man, who was suspended by the Laois board for two years last September following an incident after a club match, says he will never play again in the county and insists that hurling there is playing a poor second fiddle to football.

"We're after enduring two hammerings at senior and under 21 level in the past two weeks, shipping 17 goals in the process," he says, "but the worst thing is I wasn't even shocked at that. Speaking to some of the players before they played Cork, they were expecting it too.

"I've been playing for Laois since I was 17; I had 12 or 13 years on the trot. Not so long ago, we were competing with and beating Dublin. There are still seven or eight of that Dublin team playing under Anthony Daly but look how far back we've gone and look at what progress they have made in the meantime.

"There's a feelgood factor around Dublin hurling, just like there was with the Laois footballers some years back when they were able to pull managers of the calibre of Mick O'Dwyer. But there's never been any such appointment for the hurlers. We just seem to be second fiddle all the time.

"Pat Critchley is doing savage work trying to promote the game in the county but there's only so much work one man can do. We're in serious trouble at schools levels. There is no hurling presence in certain vocational schools and they are really only fulfilling fixtures.

"Maybe people will be shamed into doing something now. We've shipped two serious hammerings but no surprise there. The writing was on the wall. Before we played Cork two challenge matches were held but only 14 showed up to play a Waterford selection, while just 16 turned up to play a Kilkenny selection.

"Nothing is being done to rectify it -- there always seems to be a problem between players and managements and it doesn't take a genius to realise what's wrong. Who is overseeing all of this? The county board and now I think they should resign."

Following that 10-20 to 1-13 senior defeat to the Rebel County, Laois chairman Brian Allen said that nine of Brendan Fennelly's starting 15 were injured up to a week before that qualifier. And after the game he didn't rule out a drop to the Christy Ring competition in the near future in a bid to stabilise the team. Young, however, says that would finish the game in the county.

"I believe that dropping to the Christy Ring competition would be the death of Laois hurling altogether," he says. "It's not in the best interest of the team to go down because no one will ever take us seriously again if we revert to that. Who would turn up to train for that? You have to hurl to the highest level possible, that's what I wanted to do when I was playing anyway.

"We have lads in this county that are as good as any other player -- we nearly beat Limerick in Thurles two years ago but look at us now with class hurlers like Tommy Fitzgerald walking away and we're left taking hammerings."

To address the alarming series of defeats, the Laois board has arranged a forum comprising past players to see what can be done to address the slide. They have invited those with experience and know-how to help raise morale. But Young maintains it's too little, too late.

He openly admits that much of his disillusionment with the board stems from that two-year suspension, although insists he would still feel the same even if there was no past history with the administration.

Young received the lengthy ban following complaints of an altercation with a photographer after last September's tense encounter between Clonaslee and Ballyfin in which almost 10 minutes of injury time was played. Ballyfin launched a dramatic late comeback and won by two points. Chaos reigned afterwards and a host of suspensions were subsequently handed out to the Clonaslee club as a melee occurred.

Young's ban caught most attention but apart from the suspension, the 31-year-old Garda also found himself on the end of a complaint to the Garda Ombudsman. A six-month investigation ensued and just recently ended with the news that 'insufficient evidence was found to support the allegations made'.

Young, who remains Laois' all-time championship top-scorer with a tally of 7-180 in his career, says he now wants to close the door on that chapter of his life but regrets that he will never play for his county again.

"I just want to put this to bed. In the past two years I tore my cruciate then my medial ligament and then this happened," he sighs. "I haven't been able to hurl for Laois for almost three years but, until I got this suspension, it wasn't that I didn't want to be there. When I first heard that I got a 96-week ban I couldn't get my head around it. I still can't. I haven't gone to a match since and I won't either. I'm gone away from it completely. I got no support from the county board -- I was left to myself."

Young says that he explored the avenue of appeal to the county board Central Hearings Committee (CHC), Leinster Council and DRA but adds that all avenues were closed.

However, Laois chairman Brian Allen says that the former All Star nominee could have appealed to all three bodies but didn't. The official added that when the appeals finally came through they were outside of the time frame.

"That case has been dealt with," Allen told the Sunday Independent. "He could have sought a hearing but he didn't. At the time he could have sought a Leinster Council hearing or a DRA hearing but he didn't.

"The case has since been cleared by the Garda Ombudsman and James tried to reopen the case through our channels but the time period had elapsed.

"If appeals had been sought within the time span a hearing could have been sought. But we have dealt with the case and the case was put through the process."

Young admits he wasn't even aware of a time frame and adds that the six months of the Garda Ombudsman investigation were a nightmare to endure. Based in the Kildare division, he also admits he feared for his future.

"I just think that doors were shut and all avenues were closed; I was on my own," he continues. "I didn't even know there was a time frame for these appeals. But the worst thing was that my job was on the line. My mortgage and livelihood were all at risk. I have a young daughter, Anne, who is three years old and I'm getting married to my fiancée Brigid next year. It's only an amateur sport and I wouldn't like to see this happen any other hurler or footballer.

"Our under 14s, 15s and 16s were also banned by the county board from playing home games for three years because of the aftermath -- but what did they do to deserve that? I'm outraged with the county board over that. It's a disgrace.

"I just can't see myself hurling again -- not in Laois anyway. Never say never, I suppose.

"I have nine months of this ban served and while the ombudsman report was some relief to me, I have no further avenue of appeal in the GAA and so I have to sit it out on my own. It's a real kick in the teeth.

"Fair enough, I hold my hands up and admit that this sort of stuff is not good for the county. But there are more and more problems occurring; like clubs within the county fighting with each other and arguing. A lot of it is down to frustrations at poor refereeing which doesn't help. I genuinely think we have to go for outside referees now.

"But at this stage I just want to put all this to bed. I'll be 33 by the time the ban is over and I'm most likely finished. The worst thing is, if I was back fit and playing under a good manager, with our best team available, I'd have no fear of going out and playing the likes of Dublin in the morning."

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