It is an auspicious time for Liam O’Neill to take over as An tUachtarán. A self-professed supporter of hurling he can only have been dismayed at recent goings on in Monaghan.
The sheer embarrassment to an organisation that recently revealed its national hurling development plan, and the damage done to hurling in general and in particular hurling in Monaghan cannot be underestimated.
Liam hasn’t spoken yet of the events in Monaghan that led to the team defaulting from a National Final because of the churlish behaviour of its county board in disrespecting our national game. Maybe they were still smarting at the decision to remove home advantage in the National Football League.
Whatever the reason, their behaviour is outside the pale, and all the more remarkable because no-one from the Monaghan County Board has yet come out openly to explain their intransigence. They pointed to a meeting last year held to develop a county fixtures plan. Faced with a team in a national final they plainly refused to deviate from that plan, even though they could have. But at what cost?
Nor have we heard from Croke Park their views. It was merely accepted that Monaghan wouldn’t be fielding. Sin é. Ceart go leor. How can this be acceptable? Stronger counties encountering problems to varying degrees had delegations arriving from Croke Park to help solve their problems. Spare a thought also for the hurlers of Fingal, denied their final match of the season because of something they had no part in. Only here could you find a final where everyone loses.
These things just don’t happen in other serious sports. Imagine if Ulster, having beaten Munster in the Heineken Cup, just notified the authorities that they wouldn’t be fielding the next day. Just like that. Or Liverpool at the weekend calling the FA: ‘Eh! Eh! Alright! See that final, see us? We won’t be playin.’
The GAA is a resolutely amateur organisation. And every so often we are left in abso-f***in-lutely no doubt about that.
Hurling fans in so-called stronger hurling counties may raise an eyebrow at the Monaghan debacle. Perhaps they live in a place where hurling takes precedence and it is footballers that are the underclass. It’s not their fault they live in places where hurling is loved by the majority.
But tread carefully lads, the danger for the ‘real’ hurling counties is that whatever the matter and merits of the Hurling Development Plan, if the game isn’t sustained and developed in places like Monaghan where the hurlers are zealous in the face of opposition, then it will shrink to the smallest number of locations and become a truly endangered species.
One of the ironies in this is that the GAA centrally took over what was the Ulster League and morphed it into the Táin League. The name is significant, as the territory covered by the new league roughly equates to the part of the country wherein Cúchulainn plied his trade.
Cúchulainn of course was an Ulster hurler. If he were around these days, he would likely have stayed as plain old Setanta because his opportunities to hurl would have been severely curtailed. Certainly my money would be on the hound, not the hurler.
John Martin writing in 'Gaelic Life' flagged the lack of promotion and advertising around the launch of the Táin League. Contrast the weekend’s Congress comments where we have been promised all manner of campaigns this summer to counter the dual attractions of Euro 2012 and London 2012.
As a hurling coach in a football county, and formerly a hurler in a football county I have had people laugh openly in my face when I told them I preferred hurling. These are the sorts of boys that like the smell of smouldering ash.