KILKENNY GAA 2012 is a thriving, vibrant entity and while the dedicated volunteers of today must be praised for their efforts to keep the county to the fore, the gifts bestowed on the organisation from the past should never be under valued or taken for granted.
Kilkenny County Board secretary and former chairman, Ned Quinn, has been a significant contributor to the Kilkenny cause from the day he joined his beloved Mooncoin.
Later he stepped beyond the parish boundary to help serve the greater good when first elected chairman of Cumann-na-mBunscoileanna in 1988. There have been many easy, difficult, enjoyable and disappointing steps along the way, but he took them all in his stride because he viewed it as part of his contribution.
“I am doing something I want to do, something I love,” was his summary.
In other words, he is an heir in a long line of volunteers.
“When you talk about Kilkenny, and hurling too, and the healthy state it is in today, you must always recognise where it has come from and the great people who started it all off over 100 years ago,” he said as he delved, deliberately, into history.
From the time the county won its first All-Ireland in 1904 the enthusiasm the people had for the game jumps at you from the pages of history, he insisted.
“The people of Kilkenny really took hurlers and hurling into their hearts for that day,” he felt. “I don’t think much has changed.”
With Kilkenny facing into a record seventh successive All-Ireland senior final on Sunday, things were never so good, but it wasn’t all about the present according to the secretary.
“There were a couple of events that happened in history that were hugely significant to the development of the game here,” he said. “Obviously we won seven All-Irelands from 1904 to 1913. They must have been wonderful men. Then we had a fallow period after the Civil War and then the thirties were brilliant.
“A very significant happening in 1939 was when the Schools Board was formed. The people involved then were very far seeing. We are reaping the rewards of that inspired decision.
“They set up the Schools Board based on one team per parish. That time there would be three or four small schools, but one hurling team.”
Over a dozen years later the Parish Rule came into force. Parishes discovered they could actually make up teams, but their players were scattered around the county playing for everyone else. Parish became club!
“We have driven on from there,” Mr Quinn said with pride. “Those things underpinned the GAA in Kilkenny. We now have a strong club in every parish that have developed tremendous facilities.
“You can go the length and breadth of Kilkenny. Great credit is due to all the people in the clubs. All the time it appears they were looking at what they had, and then they tried to make it better. The same thing is happening today.”
Parents who fostered a love of Gaelic games in their children, and primary and secondary schools, plus clubs, which help develop the talent subsequently, kept the wheel turning.
“If you move on to County Board level I see our responsibility as having to do the ‘add on’,” was the way he put the contribution of officers “They do the ground work. They produce the raw material if you like, and then it is up to us to provide a system or a plan that would add on to what is being done.
People way back made Kilkenny
“What we are doing at County Board level, or what any of our county teams are doing, wouldn’t be possible if the things underneath were not operating properly. Many, many people going right back have made Kilkenny what it is today.”
Voluntary effort was the key to everything, past and present.
To this day the County Board remains, virtually, entirely voluntary. There are a couple of employees; county coaches Brian Ryan and Jimmy Meagher and Caroline Walsh, who works in the office in Nowlan Park. The grounds man at Nowlan Park, Timmy Grogan is full-time.
“Everyone else is a volunteer,” the chairman reminded. “In that way we don’t have the outlay or expense other counties are experiencing. If we were to be paying people for doing what they are doing the county would be under serious financial pressure.”
No one gets or asks to be paid - team managers or selectors; Development Squad coaches; officials.
The Development Squads are currently under review, not because they haven’t been producing, rather because games have moved on and updating is required.
Conditioning programmes for young players as young as 15 are being considered.
“We must have a core strength and fitness element in our games, but we must make sure it is controlled and what the players are doing is the right thing,” Mr Quinn revealed.
Carlow IT has been a tremendous help in this regard, where county selector Michael Dempsey heads up a top line facility.
And here’s one from Mr Quinn: “We would be better at under-age hurling if we played more football. Football has skills like the side step, the leap into the air and so on that would be enormously helpful in hurling. You always have to be open to ideas.”
And all sorts of things can make a different. The under-21 All-Ireland final win of 1999 over Galway was one such event. Members of that team like Noel Hickey (the captain), Michael Kavanagh, Aidan Cummins, Sean Dowling, Richie Mullally, Alan Geoghegan, Henry Shefflin and Eddie Brennan all came through to win multiple senior honours.
“There was a kind of depressed mood at that time after we had lost the senior All-Ireland and there was a sad event the night before the game, and we were very anxious to win,” Mr Quinn recalled. “The players responded and we scored a great victory. That showed what one significant thing lead to.
Don’t have to be always winning
“I don’t think you have to be winning under-age titles all the time. Give them every encouragement and help and the drive to win, but the important thing is that you have a very broad base and you have people who can spot the really talented guy coming along. If you get two or three good players coming along all the time you will do okay. Feeding people into the senior team should be our real ambition.”
Kilkenny, from a hurling and development point of view, was in a good place, he felt. Finances were under control. The volunteers, including those involved in the Supporters Clubs in Kilkenny, Kildare and Dublin, made massive contributions.
“If we didn’t have the broad mass of Kilkenny people supporting us and hurling it wouldn’t be where it is today,” Mr Quinn insisted.