Hurlers will always be walked on unless our representatives act
THE DUST has now settled on the hurlers' great win in the Division 2B Hurling League final.
However, as I sat in a sparsely filled stand in Navan last Saturday week, I thought to myself that surely these players deserve more.
Now don't get me wrong the result of the game was the most important ingredient of the day and thankfully that went Wicklow's way.
The promotion, venue, time, day and coverage of the final could all have been considerably improved. I would love to see what kind of budget the GAA spent on the promotion of this final. Obviously management and players have to focus on the game. However, other agents of the Association have to ask themselves are they doing their best to promote our county teams and recognising the hard work and sacrifices of the players or are they just going through the motions and accepting second best to the detriment of the game.
The enhanced profile that the game of hurling receives from both local and national media outlets would generate greater interest and in turn entice larger numbers to play hurling in Wicklow, something that is obviously needed.
Playing a final on a Saturday afternoon outside of Wicklow immediately puts supporters and players under pressure for many reasons none more so than work related issues.
I know that the timing and location of the game had a bearing on the number attending and in fact many of those attending arrived late to the venue. There were also local fixtures on in Wicklow that day and, more surprisingly, a Hurling Coaching Conference was being held in Ballinakill. To facilitate people who were not in a position to attend the game a live radio broadcast of the game would have been a most welcome addition. After all it was a national final.
I think it's commendable that the football finals in Divisions 1, 2, 3 and 4 are all played in Croke Park. Only two years ago we had the great occasion when Wicklow defeated Fermanagh in the Division 4 final in Croker. If I recall correctly the game was also shown live on TV. One couldn't ask for better promotion of a game.
Why then are the lower division hurling finals not afforded the same respect? It would be a huge bonus for the teams that qualify for these league finals to play, even as a curtain raiser to the Division 1 hurling quarter, semi or, God forbid, the final.
I don't intend any disrespect to either Markievicz Park in Sligo or Páirc Tailteann in Navan where the Division 2B and 3 hurling finals were played but there is a great buzz for players and supporters to share a “real hurling” venue with the big hitters. Playing in such an environment can only inspire players and young supporters on to greater achievements.
Wicklow and the other counties that are currently plying their trade in the lower hurling divisions need to unify themselves and seek fair play in the overall running of competitions.
The officials of these weaker counties need to be stronger and more volatile when fighting their cause as, collectively, they should be capable of improving their counties lot if they work as a unified group.
This pattern of the GAA playing important games in unsuitable venues for weaker counties is certainly nothing new.
I remember a few years ago Carlow and Westmeath were fixed to play a Christy Ring final at 7.30pm in Croke Park on a Friday evening. When both counties objected they were then made play it in Tullamore on a Saturday.
I recall at the time talking to an official in Croke park who was horrified by both counties' attitudes and even said “sure didn't they play last year's final in Croke Park and that should have been enough for them”.
Could you imagine saying that to Kilkenny or Dublin, “you played last year's final in Croke Park now that's enough for you”.
Wicklow hurlers also had to play an All-Ireland 'B' final in 2003 at 7pm on a Saturday night in Tullamore which at the time disappointed many but, as usual, we just put up with it.
With the arrival of Sky on the scene hopefully all channels including TG4 and RTE will improve their coverage of the game in the lower divisions. Neither of the home channels for a number of years has shown any hurling games involving teams outside of Division 1, not even limited highlights of any of the finals. Not good enough in my opinion. In fact, RTE sometimes don't even give the results of Division 2 hurling games on their main evening news.
When the GAA introduced the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups they promised to promote them as best as possible. This certainly hasn't happened so far.
Admittedly the finals are all played in Croke Park, however, the coverage given and the promotion of these games is virtually nil.
Even the manner in which the All Stars are selected leaves a lot to be desired. Could these finals not be played before important games where some atmosphere could be generated in such a wonderful stadium?
Unless our representatives in Wicklow highlight these matters in a compelling manner the hurlers will always be walked on.