GAA – Is hurling in danger?

Posted: June 3, 2010 by undergroundfisherman in Sport
Tags: , , , ,

Brian Cody has presided over what is possibly the greatest Kilkenny team ever, but is their dominance damaging the sport?

In the last eleven years, only three teams have managed to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup – Cork, Tipperary and the ever-present Kilkenny. Since 1991, The Cats have made it to the final thirteen times, winning nine. They’ve won the All-Ireland for the past four years in a row, putting three goals and thirty points past Waterford in the 2008 final. Should a final ever be this one-sided? Does this lack of competitiveness put hurling as a spectacle at risk? Many have said that it does. After this demolition, one reporter reflected “I suppose at half-time you could say that the match was over, and the analyses started.” Nobody wants to hear a eulogy like this at the end of what is supposed to be, by definition, the most climactic game of the season. While it’s certainly not Kilkenny’s fault that they’re head and shoulders above everyone else, it makes one wonder about the health of the sport.

So what are the problems it faces? The most obvious is participation, or lack of it. Only 12 counties put forward a team to contest the Liam McCarthy last year. While there are other trophies such as the Christy Ring Cup, contested by such hurling powerhouses as Mayo and Kerry, the interest is limited. Therefore, there are only 12 real teams in the running, and of these, only about five have any chance of winning. When we compare this to gaelic football, where at least 10 teams would have a good chance of making it to the final, we see a distinct lack of variety with the small ball.

In an interview with the Irish Independent last year, former Limerick hurler and U-21 manager Willie Fitzmaurice said “The GAA needs to undertake a serious review of hurling and the direction it’s headed.” Hurling is virtually non-existent in urban areas, and in the traditionally strong rural areas, there has been a steep decline of young men to play the game, since they often tend to move elsewhere to look for jobs, while in schools, there are not enough children picking up the sport to sustain a team. In many parts of the country, kids will tend to opt for soccer or gaelic football instead of hurling. Mr Fitzmaurice goes on to state the important role of primary schools in the development of the game, but the changing demographic of teachers could be halting progress “We can never underestimate the value of the commitment of our teachers. However, the number of male teachers has declined and the situation needs to be addressed.”

What we take take from this appraisal of the sport is that the suggested decline is a social issue, caused by rural emigration to bigger towns and cities.  It is my own belief that there will always be a place for hurling, and rightly so, but I do worry sometimes that Munster’s dominance has served to alienate some of its audience. If this continues, it may upset the balance even further. Hopefully measures will be put in place to slow this change, because there is little doubt that the sport is one of the most skillful and exciting in the entire world, and to see it fade away would be a tragedy. Now, let’s remind ourselves just how good the game actually is with this Sunday Game film that really shows the passion that it can bring out in people.

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