COUNTY boards that don’t make appropriate space for hurling should have their funding withdrawn by Croke Park.
That is the view of Down boss Ronan Sheehan, as the GAA moves into 2024 on the back of a trying final few months which saw a controversial proposal that threatened to curtail the involvement of several counties.
Cavan and Fermanagh were among five counties – alongside Leitrim, Longford and Louth – with fewer than five clubs who faced National League expulsion from 2025 until the proposal was withdrawn ahead of a December 2 Central Council meeting.
And Sheehan feels it is imperative that counties show their support for hurling by finding a place for the code to thrive.
“Space in the calendar is the biggest thing,” he said.
“Croke Park could turn around tomorrow and say very clearly, there’s four weeks – two are dual weeks. On the third week, it’s hurling only, then the fourth week it’s football only.
“The way football in particular is going, and club teams training three or four nights a week, the dual player will be finished. It has to be positive discrimination; a hurling week once every four weeks, in the calendar, protected, that’s it.
“I said this Shane Flanagan [GAA director of coaching and games development], if county boards aren’t willing to give that week to hurling once every four weeks, then you should be getting no money from Croke Park because you’re not really interested in growing the game.
“You’re being asked to do something that costs nothing, and if you’re not willing to do that to protect the national game of the island, then you should be getting no funding from Croke Park.”
The GAA has since announced the creation of a workgroup to formulate a ‘national hurling action plan’ aimed at developing the code across Ireland, with Kieran Farmer (Fermanagh), Kevin Kelly (Derry) and Ryan Gaffney (Armagh) the Ulster representatives on the committee.
And while there are many aspects under consideration, Sheehan feels it is important for the group to realise they “can’t fix every problem” straight away.
“They have prioritise what they’re going to do,” said the Newry Shamrocks clubman.
“Are we going to try and put new clubs into Down and other counties, when actually we probably have five or six clubs that are on life support?
“There, should the focus be on strengthening the clubs we already have? Getting more young lads from Mayobridge hurling, for example, but playing for Clonduff, or more young lads from Kilcoo hurling and playing for Liatroim or Castlewellan, or Saval into Newry… that kind of an idea.
“In Fermanagh, it has to be about growing more clubs because there’s only the two, so it can’t just be one size fits all.”
Schools is another area Sheehan feels requires a rethink if hurling is to capture the imagination in places considered football strongholds.
“I would argue that you don’t get a coach coming into your local school unless you’re willing to do 50 per cent of what the paid coach is doing - so to get 20 hours of paid coaching in a month from the likes of Danny Toner, the local club needs to come in and do a further 10.
“At the minute, it’s too easy to go and ask for the coach to come in, but if you’re not having to invest your time and effort, then you’re not following it through.
“Without the club link, and a face they can recognise, the kids are never going to go down to the club anyway.”