Down building for future
Tuesday, 22 January 2013
FOLLOWING the Down County Convention at the end of last year, Down hurling will hope for unification and improvement of the various initiatives that have been put in place to strengthen hurling and build for the future.
Last year a motion was put forward to disband the Hurling Board (the main forum for hurling clubs in the County up to and including Minor level) - that motion failed.
At the most recent Convention St Peter's Club, Warrenpoint, proposed a motion to create an advisory group that would take a strategic look at hurling in the County, and the proposal was accepted with a count of 54 to 33.
Not everyone, including some top hurling people, were convinced it was the right direction to take, but more tellingly regarding the standing of hurling in Down, in a room of 139 people only 87 voted.
“It just shows the apathy towards hurling. If it's going to go anywhere we need a lot of help but it's a fallacy that everyone comes together - it never happens," said Down hurling PRO and St Peter's Hurling Committee member, Conor Keenan who told the Democrat where Down hurling is at right now, where the problems lie, and what the hopes are for the future.
"Down have been assigned a hurling mentor as a development County, we're teamed with Cork's Ben Dorney, and following an initial meeting with the clubs it was recommended a second group be set up to help spearhead development in the County," Keenan said.
"There are a lot of new things going on but they're not being tied together. In the Mageean Cup, involving combined school teams, Down got to the final and were narrowly beaten by St Mary's from Belfast.
“It's a great thing having different platforms to expose our children to a higher level of hurling. Down Minors are Ulster Champions this year for the first time since 1994, the Mageean Cup was a big part of that bonding and experience to help create that team," he explained,
"But a big step back was the conclusion of An Dun Theas in 2011, it was a big loss locally. That initiative was a south Down development squad that improved players, gave them a profile, and promoted the game which is one of the biggest challenges. There are players from south Down on the full senior squad but the question remains where are the next generation going to get their experience?
“Those players cut their teeth with An Dun Theas now we need something to fill the gap."
Keenan believes one of the biggest challenges, in a predominantly football county, is to get children to play hurling only, as the glamour and status of football will be a big draw for those who play both. Hurling struggles for numbers, with emigration being another issue, and the lack of quality coaching being yet another.
“Great coaches are like gold dust and one might only come along every 20 years, we need to get beyond players coaching teams but that's an evolutionary thing and coaching numbers are going up in Warrenpoint," he said.
The result of these issues can be evidenced with the best teams from the Ards, with Portaferry and Ballycran opting to play in the Antrim league.
Keenan spoke of another idea he feels was a paper exercise: "The Joe McKrickard Cup was another poorly managed initiative that never got off the ground. The theory was that clubs amalgamated for the competition to expose players to a higher level of hurling but it was supposed to start in November - the worst time of the year - and only two pairings, Warrenpoint and Newry Shamrocks, signed up."
On a more positive note however, Keenan praises the Down Development Officer, Michael Cunningham, affectionately known as Micky Wing, for his tireless work for Down hurling, particularly with the indoor hurling league which he maintains is the best run in Ulster, so much so that some of the clubs in Armagh and Antrim are entering it.
St Peter's Hurling chairman, Declan Doyle is also worthy of praise for his involvement in pulling together the Iveagh team, an amalgamated team comprising St Peter's and Newry Shamrocks.
The Tain League has also been a big boost for clubs in the Down and Armagh area, particularly as it's been expanded to include Louth, Longford and Leitrim. Keenan says: "It's run to a tee by Ulster and the lads look forward to it every year."
As far as the youth is concerned, Doyle is hopeful for the future saying: "Things are moving in the right direction for the youth, it's a hard slog with all the work with the primary schools being taken on by the clubs directly but we have had some success.
“Two years ago the Keenan Cup competition was introduced for first years in secondary school. This is a key age with children making the transition from primary to secondary school and it bridges an important gap."
St Peter's Warrenpoint are hoping to host the Feile in spring, to coincide with the celebrations for Warrenpoint's 125 years in the GAA. This is a fantastic festival of hurling and will be a great advertisement for hurling in the area if their bid is successful.
But there already is plenty to be positive about Down hurling, with Carryduff winning the club County Minor Championship as underdogs, which gives all the other clubs a boost, Bredagh blazing a trail by catching up to the Ards teams, Down Seniors playing all their fixtures in Pairc Esler and with the success of the Minor squad, young people will see the attraction of our national sport and will have an objective to aspire to.
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