MARTIN KIELY COLUMN - Heated debate at Limerick county board meeting

In this week’s column, Martin Kiely reports on a lively Limerick GAA county board meeting.

In this week’s column, Martin Kiely reports on a lively Limerick GAA county board meeting.

Everything suggested that it would go along the lines of most Limerick County Board meetings - the crowd was small and the agenda, like most others, looked like offering little in the way of real business.

We have become acclimatised to poor enough debate at County Board meetings but, to my surprise, quite a few of the clubs that did turn up last week had some real debate and, in doing so, they exposed the top table who showed just how far behind the curve they are.

The clubs led this meeting and in many ways created their own agenda. By doing so we had some hard questions asked and the overall level of debate was higher than I have witnessed for some time. The meeting had its usual opening format and that didn’t take too long.

We learned that the County Board is far from cosy from a financial point of view and we were also told that the end of year review with management teams would take place very soon. That will include minor, U-21 and senior. Such reviews shouldn’t take too long given that a new manager will be appointed at minor and, it would appear, the same is expected at U-21. The senior will be very important and I would hope that John Allen will come with a much more ruthless streak for next year because Limerick has to make progress in the coming year otherwise we could be heading for a continuation of what we have witnessed for the last ten years or so.

I have spoken to many over the past few weeks who were disappointed at the slow rate of progress with our adult teams. The Ahane delegate Donal Morrissey touched on this topic during the County Board meeting and he had an interesting point to make when he said, “It seems to be the case that if we continue to appoint people in the way that we do we will continue to have nil success. Are we appointing people because of their experience or are we appointing them to get experience?

“Mistakes have been made on the sideline and on the pitch but unless we start appointing people with experience then we face an uphill challenge”. The Secretary, Michael O’Riordan, said that many of the club senior managers in the county are from outside - which is the case in a few clubs - but he forgot to say that the reason people won’t put their names forward in Limerick is because the system of appointing them is down to politics and who certain officers would favour.

The committee to appoint the next minor manager was put in place and that comprises Joe McKenna, Eibhear O’Dea, Mike O’Riordan, Oliver Mann and Michael O’Sullivan.

The recent controversy over the Emmets v Adare game was brought up by the Chairman, Liam Lenihan, and he said he was not very happy about the way it was handled by the South Board. He told the meeting that three clubs had sent letters into the Board but stressed that no rule had been broken. It was a tame approach from the top table but when it went to the floor this topic warmed up quite a bit.

Hugh Murphy, the Secretary of the South Board, is never slow to defend his corner and said that the matter had been discussed in full at a South Board meeting and that, while it wasn’t the way they wanted it, they broke no rule, “Mistakes were made on the day but we were not helped by the fact that our players had to play with their clubs on the Saturday evening”. He had a point because if you organise for a team to be in the championship they should at least be treated the same as other teams but, that aside, they showed a real lack of respect for hurling, for the other clubs involved and the supporters of the game. The County Board also handled the matter poorly and should have called in the South Board.

Sitting two rows up from the back of the hall the West Board Chairman, Pat O’Donnell, sat quietly for the majority of the discussion. Then the experienced official stood up and, just like Katie Taylor, he delivered a crushing blow to the South Board for the way they had acted in this matter. Raising the pitch of his voice he said, “It’s disgusting and disgraceful how the South Board have acted in this manner. You cannot defend a situation where such a strong division had only 13 players to start a game. It wouldn’t happen in a Junior B game, in fact you wouldn’t see it in the Flintstones. There is no excuse for what they did and by doing so they have acted in a most disrespectful manner towards Limerick hurling”.

Not too many saw that one coming but one could see that O’Donnell delivered his speech with passion and said what should have been said from the top table. It showed him to have some steel when others sat on their hands. Liam Garvey said it should not be forgotten that teams that had worked hard had lost out and teams like Ballingarry and Bruree had paid a heavy price.

During Pat O Donnell’s speech I could see to my right the Chairman of the South Board, Pat Heffernan - brain engaged, mouth open and ready to let rip, “I am shocked that a Chairman from another division would cut us down in this way. We have some great people involved and I am proud of my division and the players. No one has questioned the County Board and from a player welfare point of view they are the people that expect our players to play 24 hours after they have played with their clubs”.

What we can say, with some degree of knowledge at this stage, is that the day of the divisional teams are over but it seems the County Board have learned little because, despite being asked by Hugh Murphy, they will not bring the next round of the intermediate championship forward to the Friday night.

Mick Graham from Claughaun asked why there are so many walkovers at Bord Na nOg level and when the Chairman told us that there had been 103 so far this year we had sighs of disbelief in the room. This led to much debate but there was no one from Bord Na nOg at the meeting. Richard Burke from Galbally said, “Our future is on the line. We have to put more funds into the schools and not cut them back which is what has happened this year. We have to increase coaching and unless we focus on the foundation we will pay a very heavy price in the future. Something is wrong and it needs to be fixed”.

Liam Lenihan started to speak about hard work and its importance but Emmet O’Brien said he should stop preaching down to clubs, “Why have we won only a couple of championship matches over the last ten or more years? There is apathy out there and it’s clear that many young people just don’t care - this is why we have so many walkovers but you as a Board must do something”.

The Chairman said that he was not preaching down to anyone. The all county system was also questioned and Michael O’ Sullivan defended it but, it’s fairly clear that clubs are not happy on the ground. The fact that over 10% of games result in walkovers is very serious and will need reflection. We got no figures at adult level but those will also be high. Croom gave a walkover in the football two weeks ago but their new Chairman, Mike Mangan, who was well able to find his voice two years ago, kept a very low profile at this meeting.

What amazed most at this meeting was that such a serious debate passed with almost all at the top table having nothing to say.

It’s time for clubs to put people in place who have something to offer, not ones courting votes.

>>> Don’t miss Martin Kiely’s column next week when he argues that it’s time to take the politics out of Limerick GAA