Kerry and Kildare faced off in an All-Ireland quarter-final at the weekend, with the men from the Kingdom emerging victorious by a comfortable margin. The next day the Kerry senior footballers thoroughly demolished the Lilywhites in Croke Park in a game that, for some, has highlighted the need for a second tier inter-county football championship.
Confused? Well, while it may have gone largely unnoticed in the wider GAA spectrum due to its status compared with the high-profile clashes in Croker on both Saturday and Sunday, the Kerry minor hurlers got their defence of the All-Ireland Minor ‘B’ Hurling Championship under way with a 2-19 to 0-13 victory over Kildare in Newbridge on Saturday.
You see, in Kerry, while the footballers are highlighting the need for a second-tier championship (according to some), the hurlers, up to this year, were to battle through hurling’s equivalent in both minor and senior grades. The senior hurlers’ exploits this year will allow them to finally sample the top drawer of hurling, Division 1 and the Liam McCarthy Cup, in 2016.
The minor hurlers, who have won 3 All-Ireland ‘B’ titles in a row and are looking a good bet for a fourth this year, may wish to compete in the Munster Championship next year but a couple of heavy defeats in their last two ventures in the competition in 2012 and 2014 mean that the Kerry County Board or the Munster Council may deem it more appropriate for them to stay in the All-Ireland ‘B’.
Therefore, this writer thinks it’s fair to say that Kerry hurling supporters have experienced their fair share of second-tier championships in recent years. Those inside the Kerry hurling camps have seen their sides become the benchmark for their respective championships and therefore have invaluable insight into such and should be listened to when considering how to go about a similar restructuring of the football championship.
For this reason, outgoing Kerry senior hurling manager Eamonn Kelly’s recent criticism of the Christy Ring Cup have caught my eye, especially given the widespread attention being paid to any proposals for a similar competition in football.
In this writer’s opinion, first of all, the Christy Ring Cup and the All-Ireland Minor ‘B’ Championship are excellent competitions that provide counties like Kerry a chance of winning a meaningful inter-county competition… in principle.
It allows these teams to enjoy their hurling and develop a winning mentality, which is absent in more than half of the counties competing in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. However, what Kelly has pointed out is that the implementation of the Christy Ring Cup has not been followed up by the respect and attention it deserves from its organisers.
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In his own words, given in an interview with The Irish Independent, Kelly states that,
“It’s ran off over just a few weeks. Games are sandwiched and come at you fast and furious. Then you reach a final and it’s played in Croke Park in front of no-one with only the echo of your own voice coming back at you.
“I know players want to play there but to have any future the Ring Cup final needs to be played before a big qualifier, an All-Ireland quarter-final, or even a semi-final. That really shouldn’t be too much to ask.”
What he asks for is unsurprisingly echoed by Joe Brolly when he talks about any second-tier football championship (The Páidí Ó Sé Cup as he would like it to be named). This writer watched with great interest as Brolly enthusiastically advocated this tournament on The Sunday Game‘s live coverage of the double bill of football quarter-finals in Croke Park.
This writer does admire how much he values equality in terms of respect and attention for this competition. It really is essential for its success and the team’s development and enjoyment that this competition is not run off in a few weeks, that the final isn’t played in front of a few hundred people in Croke Park months before the final of the ‘A’ competition.
Eamonn Kelly is right, the Christy Ring really does deserve to be showed off to the wider hurling community, before a big game or a few big games in Croke Park when the players are given the exposure that they deserve for the effort and dedication they put in.
Hopefully, if this new football championship comes to fruition, the organisers will learn the lesson of the Tommy Murphy Cup and the Christy Ring Cup and show the teams involved the same respect as their counterparts in the race for the Sam Maguire.
This writer would prefer if the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups were improved as quickly as possible and if hurling could show an example to football on how to treat second, third and fourth tier competitions properly.
However, this has always been the way for these hurling competitions, not getting enough attention or respect and this has always been the way for the All-Ireland Football Championship, apparently needing reform and not getting it.
This writer doesn’t see the Christy Ring nor Nicky Rackard nor Lory Meagher going the way of the Tommy Murphy Cup, as they are fantastic competitions with potential to be a shining light for football on how to go about its own restructuring.
So, we have two men calling for equality in their respective sports, both of whom should be listened to, yet this writer fears that Joe Brolly calling for equality in football will get far more done than Eamonn Kelly calling for the same in hurling.
If this reaches those in charge of hurling, please prove me wrong as soon as possible.
Mark Lynch, Pundit Arena
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