Let’s talk about tiers baby! Let’s talk about hurling’s three! Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things… that comes with competing at a level where you stand a chance.
With all the talk of proposed restructures facing football it gives us a chance to reflect on the massive impact they have had on its sister sport, hurling.
Let’s talk about the success story of the tiered hurling system and in particular, the achievements of London, Warwickshire and Lancashire who face adversity on a consistent basis but still manage to compete for honours.
All three have made a lasting impact on the tiered system. London won the inaugural Nicky Rackard Cup in 2005 and again in 2011 before going on to claim the Christy Ring Cup in 2012, at the time, hurling’s second-tier competition.
Warwickshire too, have been knocking around since 2005 but had to wait until 2013 for silverware when they defeated Longford in the Lory Meagher Cup final. The Birmingham based boys repeated this success in 2017 before qualifying for last season’s Nicky Rackard final where they narrowly lost to Donegal.
Lancashire haven’t as long a history as the other two in hurling’s five-tiered system but that doesn’t mean they haven’t made an impact. They entered the Lory Meagher Cup in 2015 and would go on to qualify for the final last year when a last gasp Sligo goal denied them a famous win in Croke Park.
The growth of hurling in these major English cities is amazing to see but what is even more remarkable is their ability to produce teams fit to compete and win in Croke Park.
London take on Donegal this Saturday, however, it’s a far cry from last year’s run to the Christy Ring Cup final. This time they are fighting for survival.
Tipperary’s Fergal Collins emigrated five years ago and has been involved with the Exiles through the highs and lows of championship hurling. He admitted that this season marked a particularly tough one for the English capital after losing a number of key players.
“In London, there’s no talk of last year, it’s nearly a completely new team and we’ve a new management in. It’s a fresh start and a fresh approach. We’ll just do the best we can and see how it goes.”
The construction worker admits that hurling is the last thing on one’s mind when being forced to emigrate but it’s a brilliant outlet to have when living so far from home.
“It’s brilliant! Sure we love it!
“You don’t go to London to play hurling but it’s great to have. Everybody wants to hurl and to have the chance to play in the Christy Ring Cup and hopefully get to Croke Park is brilliant.”
A high turnover in players is one thing but another significant problem they face is travelling commitments. This is particularly prominent in the case of Lancashire, who face Cavan in their final group game on Saturday, who pull players from right across the North of England.
Kilkenny man, Eoin Doyle, admits it is an issue trying to get them all together.
“We’ve got lads from Leeds, Chester, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle.
“Lancashire is Manchester/Liverpool but we train in Leeds quite a lot because it’s central. The Newcastle lads would kind of have their own training and then we try and meet up as often as we can but it’s hard to do because so many lads are in different places but we are all very committed.”
Doyle, who works for Sheffield United as part of their social media team, highlights a love of hurling as the reason for such commitment, and again, the opportunity that comes with competing in the Lory Meagher Cup.
“There is such an appetite for it abroad, lads just want to play hurling. It’s a way of getting together with other Irish lads and we’re all driven and we all want to win so it’s a really well-run group.
“Some might never get a chance to play inter-county and then you move over to the UK and get that chance, it’s a huge opportunity and Croke Park is a real driving force behind it. The games will be tough because we are all equally matched but we’ll be driven to try and get to Croke Park.”
Work is the other obvious roadblock many face as it is the sole purpose for having emigrated in the first place and according to Fergal Collins; “You’d be there a long time explaining to your boss that you need to take a half-day for hurling”.
It’s something that Eoin Doyle admits is hard but in his line of work gets easier due to its seasonal basis.
“It’s hard but I’m lucky that my boss is sound. She let me miss one or two home games and the odd training session. Now that the season is over it’s good because I have my weekends free.”
An engineer by trade, Warwickshire’s Robert Curley, has noticed a change in England with regards to hurling due to the GAA’s broadcasting deal with Sky Sports.
“It’s funny, I was doing a presentation in work and just to change it up instead of having the boring powerpoint pictures. I had photos of our recent league campaign.
“I got more questions about hurling than I did about work. They think it’s a mixture of hockey and rugby. When I first moved over and spoke about hurling no one knew what it was but now with Sky Sports everyone now knows what hurling is. They think it is a mental sport which is gas because they look at you like you’re some sort of warrior (laughs).”
Now that the game of hurling is established in these major cities and their county sides are competing for championships the goal must be to make it sustainable so that teams aren’t relying solely on Irish players.
It’s something that Curley, is already preparing for having recently set-up a juvenile structure within his local club.
“We’ve set-up juvenile hurling in our club to try and keep it sustainable. It’s going to take 10 years until one of those kids will be playing but it’s a good start”
“We won the Lory Meagher two years ago and were in the Nicky Rackard final last year and some of the kids travelled over to Croke Park. For them to see us out on the pitch, they idolise us and they play themselves and that’s great because it gives them the motivation to crack on.”
Warwickshire face Sligo in the Nicky Rackard semi-final this weekend meaning they are one win away from giving these Brummie born kids another taste of a Croke Park final.