The direction may be right, but treading warily will be advisable

Whilst paying tribute to John Reilly a while ago, mention was afforded to the 1997 season. Specifically, that at the time our club had very talented underage teams in both codes. The thing was, as so many of our teams across different grades qualified for finals, the U-21 hurling decider against Boardsmill ended up being held over until the following year.

February 1998 to be exact. Now, notwithstanding the fact that the second month of the year is hardly optimum time to be hurling in a county and at a time when the game needed all the promotion it could get, it probably served as an illustration of where the game stood in relation to the bigger picture.

At this point, it must be acknowledged that things have improved markedly. Something down to the tireless and often unseen efforts of John and many others. And it’s something which has played out in the commendable progress made by Meath hurling teams in the not so distant past. Indeed, given the links that were outlined here previously, maybe it’s no surprise that our standing in camogie has ascended concurrently.

However, there is never a good time to drop the guard. That U-21 HC of ’97 (the 1998 version was played off by early May) came to mind recently. Simply as, this season’s incarnation of the competition only got going in the first week of November. Meaning that, due to the demands on players fielding in other grades, our lads only had one collective training session before their outing.

Thus, the title claimed against Kildalkey last term – also at the tail end of the year – was relinquished at the first hurdle. This is not, in any way, a moan over the outcome – the blues ran out convincing winners to cement the feeling that they and Kiltale remain considerably ahead of the pack. No, it’s more a pondering of how matters ended up as they are.

As in, taking into account that – as far as can be recalled – the said entity is one of very few knock-out competitions in the county, how is it that it always seems to be shoehorned into the dying embers of the season. Doubtless, there are those who will point to the exodus of young players, in particular, as reasoning why such things couldn’t be ran off during the summer months.

Turn that another way though. If there was properly structured fixture programme during what are, notionally at least, the best months of the year, it might at least do something to stem the flow of talent out of the country at a time when players should be at their busiest.

To this end, as with affairs in football, with the restructuring of the hurling championship, the direction things are headed may be right, but there is still a need to thread warily. Things like the staging of U-21 games in November underlines this. Admittedly, the traditionalist within me is upset to see the September showpieces dispensed, but, if there is action elsewhere it should fill the void.

Yet it’s not all roses and wine. For one thing, as things currently sit, clubs will be without county players until April – the month when, locally at least, the club championships should be taking off. However, even more unlikely to happen is the prospect of county managers being shorn of their charges only a month out from their big throw in. What genius came up with that idea? Was it collect six crisp packets and submit an idea?

Back in the credit column for the new order, running the Leinster and Munster championships in a group format will throw up some intriguing clashes from a spectator point of view. Plus, the incoming system guarantees the retention of the Munster SHC Final. Again, this is the sporting romantic in me, but, anything which led to the axing of the greatest sporting occasion of the year would have been a travesty.

However, being cognisant of matters closer to home, one couldn’t but be disillusioned to observe the draws for the ‘lower tier’ competitions done away from that for the biggest piece of autumnal gold. What’s that saying to teams outside of those top ranked? You won’t hear those who prattle on about elitism saying much about that. You know what they say about having your cake…!

Even more disconcerting than the draw for the other competitions taking place fully days after the glitz of the televised draws was to hear murmurings that the trophy for the second competition would be named in due course. Surely, the Christy Ring Cup should be for the Tier II competition, as is currently the case, still encompassing the existing Rackard and Meagher Cup competitions going down through the grades.

Returning to concerns close to home however, while the manner in which Meath’s participation in this year’s championship still rankles greatly at least – and this is in no way meant to disrespect the Ring Cup – at least their proposed demotion was shelved. The manner in which the original outcome was arrived at was wholly farcical and – in a move that is sadly not all that common – sense seems to have prevailed.

Those now under the guidance of Nick Fitzgerald, who, it must be recalled, attained promotion in the National League last Spring, have proven themselves more than capable of competing at their current level. Even the notion of putting them else would be a retrograde and damaging step.

If the powers that be wish to put up a new trophy, would it not stand to reason that it be for the newly formulated U-17 and U-20 grades – the former being won by a Darragh Canavan-inspired Tyrone in Croke Park in early August. Was the trophy for same named in honour of anybody? A consultation was engaged in with a contact within the national press and neither of us were any the wiser.

What irks most is that we’ve been here before. What ever became of the Tommy Murphy Cup? That the trophy was defenestrated is scandalous on two counts. Firstly, as it has never been more obvious that a tiered system is needed in Gaelic football. More fundamentally – and indeed poignantly – though that the trophy was more or less allowed become defunct amounts to a dereliction of honouring the memory of one of the greatest players ever to partake in the game.

Again, unfortunately, it’s not the first occasion such things have cropped up. Those who continuously seek the culling of the International Rules Series seem to conveniently forget that the trophy for same was named after the late Cormac McAnallen. Do away with the hybrid game and what becomes of the Cormac McAnallen Cup?

For all that the GAA has made some good news, it must always watch its step.

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