December dates for county finals look hard to avoid
With Alan Aherne
IGOT a clear glimpse of what I expect the future to be like in my choice of game to attend last Sunday. With nothing major on inside the county, I quickly ruled out a trip to Portlaoise for the AIB Leinster Club hurling final as I didn’t foresee it being any sort of a contest. For once I was right as Cuala romped home against an outclassed Kilcormac-Killoughey.
The need to be home as early as possible in order to work prevented a journey to Galway to witness Liam Mellows making history and seeing off Gort to win a first Senior hurling title since 1970.
The upshot was that I popped down to Fraher Field in Dungarvan where a thoroughly absorbing Waterford Senior football final ended in a one-point win for Stradbally over long-standing rivals The Nire after extra-time.
I have attended several games between these clubs as they’ve met in eight deciders over 16 years, and their rivalry is always compelling.
What relevance has a county final in a neighbouring county to Wexford you may well ask, apart from the interesting observation that the Stradbally backroom team included ex-county boss Jason Ryan who was also involved with Taghmon-Camross this year?
Well, while I hope I’m wrong, I firmly believe that the new inter-county fixtures format will result in the delay of more and more domestic club deciders until this time of year.
Waterford decided to park their Senior football championship for a spell after their All-Ireland loss, playing hurling on successive weekends to ensure they had a representative in the Munster club championship. They had to sacrifice football involvement in the province as a result but, before criticising the Déise folk for that decision, ask yourself if our reaction would be any different in similar circumstances?
Our last direct link with a Senior All-Ireland was in 1996, but the club scene was different then because it was a straight knockout. And even at that, Kilanerin were nominated to represent the county in football and actually lost a Leinster semi-final to St. Sylvester’s from Malahide one week after surrendering their county title to Glynn-Barntown.
That nominating facility is no longer open to counties for the Senior grades, but it may have to be re-visited if numerous deadlines are missed in 2018 and provincial championship are threadbare.
In fairness to Galway, apart from their All-Ireland win, their hurling championship was delayed considerably due to a lengthy appeals process after Turloughmore were removed for fielding an ineligible player. And, because they have no Connacht involvement, it’s not unusual for their finals to be held late in the year and whatever club emerges - in this case Liam Mellows - will be thankful for playing on the same day as their next opponents, Cuala.
It galls me when I hear administrators from counties with little or no competitive hurling insisting that the new fixtures structure will benefit clubs, while adding that there will be no excuse for completing championships on time.
On the contrary, the potential pitfalls are everywhere. I’ve already raised one in a recent column: do you honestly think that two rounds apiece of club hurling and football will be completed next April, because I most certainly don’t. All-Irelands in August won’t necessarily help the club situation either.
Once again, there are clear parallels with Waterford. Stradbally are proud dual clubmen, while The Nire play Senior hurling under the Fourmilewater banner. Ballinacourty have been the only team to threaten their dual dominance since the turn of the millennium, and they’re a sister club of the Abbeyside hurlers just outside Dungarvan.
It’s an exactly similar story here, with successful clubs in one code tending to do equally as well in the other. As a result, it will take twice as long to finish our domestic championships, and I have yet to see a workable solution offered to this. I’m sure it will be quite easy for Cavan, for example, to complete their football championships in 2018, given that their current Senior hurling competition attracted three clubs, and one gave a semi-final walkover.
Fermanagh will find it handy enough, too, with just one adult hurling club left (Lisbellaw), but genuine dual counties like Wexford and Waterford have major difficulties that cannot be ignored.