As delegates headed back to their counties after annual GAA Congress, four counties had particular reason to be happy, writes Nickey Brennan.
GAA President Liam O’Neill announced that €900,000 will be invested in four counties over the next five years to help them join hurling’s top table of Clare, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, Tipperary, Offaly, Waterford and Wexford.
The belief is that this additional funding will be worthwhile if one of Antrim, Carlow, Laois and Westmeath becomes a regular Division 1A participant, and win three championship games against one of the top 10 counties over the next six years.
Each of the four designated counties must apply for funding of €45,000 per annum. This scale of funding is dependent on the quality and content of each submission. It will be a specific requirement to outline initiatives aimed at improving and enhancing the game at minor and under-21 levels.
A further requirement stipulates that none of the funding can be used on the preparation of inter-county teams. Following Congress, the GAA issued a statement outlining details of its funding programme.
The statement noted that “the programme can be judged a success if two or three of the counties are firmly established in a new ‘top 12’ within five years. It further stated “specifically, that will mean they are regulars in Division 1, and have recorded three championship wins over top tier counties in six years. However, if only one county makes that transition then the venture will still have been worthwhile.
In fact, even if none succeed it is still a laudable aspiration to at least give these counties the opportunity. If nothing else, it will reward their work to date and make their undoubted struggle a little easier.”
There is nothing new about offering additional funding to counties to improve hurling. This has been a consistent development over the years and I look forward to seeing the four counties meeting the latest targets.
From my perspective, though, funding or lack of it was never the reason why the four counties concerned operated consistently outside the top 10 over the past decade. Occasionally one of them overcame a higher ranking opponent, but that was all too rare.
Each of the counties has its own tale of trying to climb the ladder. Over the past five years Carlow showned how hard work and good coaching can improve fortunes. It is unfortunate that they are operating in Division 2A now.
At the moment the county is without its Mount Leinster Rangers contingent, and that just might have an impact on whether they return to Division 1B. Still, the incredible progress made this year by Mount Leinster Rangers must surely help the county. Right now Carlow is well placed to meet the target set by the GAA, and more importantly stay there.
So too is Laois, but only if their hurlers give the necessary commitment. The improvements in Laois is principally down to the trojan efforts of Pat Critchley and Seamus Plunkett. I know others are also doing great work, but these two men are the reason why Laois hurling is now enjoying better days.
But they need more help, especially from players who too often have displayed a laissez-faire attitude to wearing the county jersey. Every so often Westmeath show potential, only to fall down. The county is at a crossroads. A recent league loss to Derry is worrying.
The county with the greatest potential to operate consistently in the higher echelons is Antrim. Its hurling pedigree is strong. Antrim club sides perform admirably whenever they meet opponents from the so-called stronger counties. Antrim, though, has been unable to bring the strength of its club hurling on to the inter-county stage. This has been especially evident since the county joined the Leinster senior hurling championship some years ago.
More counties would have wished to get hold of additional funding. They will in time. This is a welcome initiative which will hopefully elevate at least some of the counties involved up the hurling ladder.