The Wicklow minor hurlers have had their say on their recent heavy defeat to Meath in the Leinster championship. Three of their players have written an open letter in response to an article in their local newspaper regarding their performance. The players were unhappy with how they were compared with their football colleagues in Wicklow and felt that the comparison was unfair as they feel that they are not treated in the same manner as the minor footballers.
This comes in the same week that Waterford county chairman Paddy Joe Ryan criticised the clubs within his county for their lack of support for football in the Déise county.
The ‘win at all costs’ mentality that is often discussed in relation to defensive play and other tactics employed by teams and management is understandable, yet this cannot be at the expense of the promotion of our games.
County boards are under pressure to achieve success, regardless of how big or small and perhaps this plays a part in the promotion of one game over another. Yet as outlined in this letter by the minor hurlers, these ‘are proud Wicklow men. We have pride in our clubs, pride in our school teams and we are proud to wear the Wicklow jersey’.
This is the success of the GAA in counties like Wicklow and plenty others like them who haven’t achieved significantly in terms of silverware but who still have plenty of young men who want to play for their county and who have pride, passion and a love for their jersey. They have a belief that glory days are possible and they work as hard as anyone to try make this happen.
It’s players like this who should be lauded within the GAA. They are putting huge effort into playing for their counties, regardless of whether it’s the ‘popular’ sport or not and their articulation of the issues affecting minor hurling in Wicklow emphasises the passion that they have for their sport and the desire they have to promote one of the national games within their own county.
The county board in Wicklow claim that they are doing everything within their means for their minor hurlers, and perhaps this is true yet the players obviously feel that they are being treated inadequately in comparison to their footballing counterparts. It is clear that there has been good work done in Wicklow hurling in recent times with their U21 hurlers winning the U21 B All-Ireland last year. However, players should not feel that they are facing an uphill battle to compete at the sport that they love.
We are often very quick to celebrate players such as the Brogans, the Fennellys or the Cavanaghs and rightly so but what about the players who play for years and few know their names? We put these well-known players on a pedestal while we unintentionally ignore and disrespect the majority by referring to the ‘basement’ and tolerating the blatant inequality that exists with regards to the media coverage of games involving certain counties.
However, the main issue with regards to the Wicklow minor hurlers and Waterford footballers is not a media issue- it’s a question of respect within their own county. If county boards and clubs are not seen to demonstrate their belief in a team, this has to translate to results.
No team who puts in such an effort deserves to play second, third or fourth fiddle to another team. Leadership needs to be shown by county boards and clubs to promote the games and the players who simply want to be treated as equal. None of the Wicklow minor hurlers or Waterford senior footballers are looking for special treatment, just equal treatment.
Maybe it’s idealistic to suggest that meaningful participation and support should be the foundation of the GAA across the country but maybe there’s nothing wrong with being idealistic. Maybe then we wouldn’t be hearing as many stories about players feeling undervalued within their own counties.