For the Carlow minor hurling team 2006 was a landmark year not only for the Barrowsiders but also for every minnow hurling county in Ireland. Reaching a Leinster final against Kilkenny was a huge achievement, especially for a county where success in any GAA code is a rarity.
Over a decade later in 2017, Carlow are now celebrating winning a national title at senior level after their Christy Ring Cup success. A massive achievement from a small county against all the odds.
Unfortunately, the GAA public were unable to witness this on our TV screens. Six teams playing three national finals on the hallowed turf of Croke Park, and not a puck to be seen. Although TG4 streamed the set of games live on YouTube, many of our older generation would not have access to this.
Think all the young kids in Carlow, looking to be inspired by hurlers in their county. Every summer they watch on their TV screens, Richie Hogan and Lee Chin from their neighbouring counties, and hope maybe some day to see a Carlow player do the same.
Enter James Doyle, Carlow’s four-goal hero from the Christy Ring final. We all remember watching our heroes on TV, and post match imitating their moves in our back garden. I’m sure the name of James Doyle, especially around his St Mullins club, would be inspiring to the young people in Carlow with ambitions to hurl for their county.
Unfortunately the powers-that-be have decided that our hurling county minnows in pockets around our small island dare not dream or be exposed on our national airwaves.
Saturday, June 4, 2016, was indeed a dark day for hurling. What should of been a celebration in honour of great hurling men, Lory Meagher, Nicky Rackard, and Christy Ring, turned in to a farce.
In a year where we had seen hope for our second and third tier counties in hurling pockets across Ireland, the plug was pulled and these counties were let down yet again. Not only were the hurlers of Meath and Antrim the losers, but the progress which has been made in Kerry, Westmeath, Carlow, and every other minnow county.
These teams train just as hard, and make the same sacrifices as any of the top tier teams that make it to All-Ireland final day. To Sligo, Louth, Mayo, Armagh, Antrim and Meath, this was their All Ireland final day in Croke Park. Every players dream, to play a national final in GAA headquarters.
Human error I can accept, but not having ‘Hawk Eye’ available for three national finals is disrespectful to players, managers, supporters, and hurling folk across the length and breath of the country.
To see a Meath hurling team lift the Christy Ring Cup and celebrate their All-Ireland title, only to be told days later that they must replay is extraordinary and would certainly not happen with the top tier teams.
Sunday, March 20 on a spring day in Birr, the Kerry hurlers had their biggest win in decades. For the little pockets of hurling rebels in the Kingdom, places like Kilmoyley, Ballyduff ( All Ireland winners in 1891) and Ardfert, days like this are a credit to the work being done in the football-mad Kingdom.
Zak Moradi might not be a household name in hurling households across the country, however his story in hurling folklore is truly amazing. An Iraqi-born Leitrim hurler, who last year was named on the Lory Meagher Cup best fifteen, and who also represented Ireland at u-21 level against our Scottish shinty counterparts.
At the age of 11 his family moved to Carrick-on-Shannon where he was introduced to a love of hurling. Four years later he moved to Dublin and began developing his hurling skills at a higher level.
Now 26, Zak never forgot his Leitrim GAA connection and has been hurling for their cause across the country and gracing our sacred turf in Croke Park.
Not only is his own personal story truly amazing, but his commitment to Leitrim, his commute from Dublin, his own admission that Leitrim have only four hurling clubs, that he feels obliged to put his shoulder to the wheel. This hurler should be a household name and an inspiration for people from all over the world living in Ireland that they can play our national sport. Why not market a Zak Moradi and tell his story to the sporting world would promote our games no end?
The hills of Antrim have always echoed a strong voice in their love for hurling. The Saffrons biggest achievement was playing in the All-Ireland final of 1989. Since then the hurling stronghold has struggled along with the rest of the football dominated counties in Ulster. Still it was encouraging to see Derry winning the Nicky Rackard Cup defeating Armagh in a provincial showdown.
Donal Og Cusack has been a strong advocate for a ‘Team Ulster’, where the very best players from each county have a realistic chance of competing at the top tier in the All-Ireland Championship.
While the idea is fascinating and well intentioned, a traditional county like Antrim would never go for it. It is at least an idea that is worth a debate at Congress and at Ulster Council.
Our hurling minnows, scattered in pockets across our football dominated counties will always be the poor relation. County boards will always favour their football teams first, and at Congress a vote cannot be passed without the same county boards voting on a radical way forward.
One man who tried to make a difference was former Laois hurling manager Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett.
Frustrated and bemused, he resigned in 2016 where he felt he was hitting a brick wall. Let ‘Cheddar’ have the last word, and express what all the hurling minnows are feeling.
“I’ve been saying it for three years. It’s time for somebody here to wake up and decide how this thing is going to be done better. Because certainly what is being done in the last 30 years is not working.
“We need somebody to look at this differently and take advantage of the opportunities that are arising. And I’d be saying exactly the same thing about Westmeath and Carlow and other counties. They are giving everything they can to prove themselves. And that’s not easy. We’re a small county. We just don’t have the revenues generating that other counties have.
“Will people continue to sit on their hands while all these people do all this work and an opportunity is here? I can’t keep asking that question often enough.
“It’s about a complete vision for hurling. How we’re going to promote the game. What is the objective here? Is the objective for the next 40 years to have an All-Ireland championship where only three counties can win it? Because we’ve had that for the last 40 years.
“If that what they want, let them stand up and be honest and say it and we’ll all go away and do something else. But if the vision is to support people like us in what we’re doing, let them stand back and say what has worked before isn’t working and let’s do something different.”
Donal Cashin, Pundit Arena
While you’re here, why not listen to The 16th Man – Pundit Arena’s GAA podcast. This week, we have reaction from Thurles as Cork defeated Waterford and there is appreciation for the footballers of Kildare and Tyrone who reached their respective provincial finals.