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'Why are they trying to grow the game across the world? Grow it in Ireland first.'

Carlow’s Paul Coady on the frustrations and worries for those away from the hurling elite.

Paul Coady (right) celebrates with Carlow team-mates in Croke Park in July.
Paul Coady (right) celebrates with Carlow team-mates in Croke Park in July.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

IN A WEEK of hurling events in far-flung locations like Sydney and Boston, Paul Coady pauses to assess the end of the season at home in Carlow.

He signed off on this year’s campaign eight days ago in Tullamore, Mount Leinster Rangers bowing out of the Leinster club race at the hands of Offaly’s Coolderry.

The disappointment of that loss has not abated, for him the abrupt close to his 2018 schedule has masked the feats that were achieved in Carlow colours over the course of the season.

The Division 2A league title was collected in March. The Joe McDonagh Cup was resting in the trophy cabinet next to it by mid-summer.

They were convincingly beaten by the ultimate champions Limerick in July but the strides that Carlow made will vault them into the elite bracket in 2019.

It should create an air of optimism but sitting back to reflect Coady cannot help but see the pitfalls that lie ahead.

In mid-November as hurling is being promoted around the world, he wonders about the health of the sport closer to home.

“It’s worrying now what’s ahead for Carlow. We’re down to four clubs now (Mount Leinster Rangers, Ballinkillen, St Mullin’s, Naomh Eoin), we had six senior clubs, there used to be eight.

“There’s less and less hurling being played. There’s probably a 10-12 mile radius in south Carlow, and that’s probably the only place there’s hurling. To me with a bit more exposure, young lads in Carlow would want to hurl. There’d be more hurling in north Carlow. Hurling would be the thing to do.

“There’s probably 12 or 13 of our club Mount Leinster Rangers going to be in with Carlow next year. That’s not sustainable. Fine we can build next year and for the following two, three, four years, when we have that panel there now with the county. In my eyes we’ve as good a 30 in there now as we have had in my career with Carlow.

“But obviously a lot of those are going to move on in the next five years and do I see the talent coming to keep us up there? I don’t know if those numbers are in Carlow. I see it slipping back quickly at an alarming rate. Where we are now, we won’t be able to sustain where we are.”

Paul Coady and Richard Coady celebrate Paul Coady celebrates March's Division 2A league final win with his brother Richard. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Which brings him to his views on global hurling occasions. Yesterday in Sydney the players of Kilkenny and Galway competed for the Wild Geese Trophy. Next Sunday in Boston will see Clare, Limerick, Wexford and Cork participate in the Fenway Hurling Classic.

Coady is at pains to stress that he is pleased for the players involved to get these opportunities. He won a Fitzgibbon Cup in UL with some current Clare and Limerick stars in 2015. He has a keen insight into the leading lights in neighbours Kilkenny.

But with Carlow scrapping for resources and fighting to climb the ranks, the decision of where to invest in hurling is jarring.

“100%, there’s no begrudgery to those players. Kilkenny won the league and deserved their reward. Same with Galway won the All-Ireland last year, that was what was originally promised. There’s no issue with those counties or those that are going to Boston. Those players deserved to be rewarded, no problem.

“But there’s a huge financial cost going into that and we don’t even know the half of it. They’ll feed you the lines of trying to grow the game globally. Why are they trying to grow the game across the world? Grow it in Ireland first.

A view of the game Action from the Wild Geese Trophy yesterday between Galway and Australia. Source: David Neilson/INPHO

“It’s only really in nine counties, so I can’t understand why they’re worried about America or Australia. Grow the game where it needs to be grown first. Where is hurling going to go? Are they forever going to stick with the eight or nine teams that are going for Liam MacCarthy? Or are they actually going to put a push on?

“The Liam MacCarthy is brilliant. I would have said there were seven teams that could have won an All-Ireland. I think Wexford and Dublin with the help of financial resources and good coaching and good development officers have bridged that gap in probably the last seven, eight years.

“Are the GAA going to forever stick at that or try to bridge the gap, the six teams in the Joe McDonagh, try to get them up to a higher level, and then try to get the Christy Ring level up? I think they’re happy just to have those nine and let the other counties suffer and have the odd day in the sunshine.”

The issue of media coverage of the lower-tier ranks in hurling frequently crops up but it’s not one Coady, a teacher in Tyndall College in Carlow, is as concerned about now.

Wider issues carry a greater urgency in his mind.

“There was some really good hurling games during the summer. There was no exposure which is standard now at our level, we don’t expect any more at this stage. There was brilliant games. I counted the scoreline of the 15 matches, I think there was five points or less between teams in 11 of those games. That tells its own story.

“When I was younger you would have been looking at the headlines or you would have been looking at things like TV coverage. Now that I’m a small bit older, I feel there’s a bigger picture in Carlow at the moment. I don’t really care about the headlines but at the moment in Carlow, and if I was to speak to the other teams in the Joe McDonagh and probably Christy Ring, hurling is dying in the counties and it is going to die.

“In fairness to the county board, they might get stick off us because we want more and more but they are trying to do their best for us, we acknowledge that.

“It’s amazing, it always seems to come back to funding and not having the resources. It’s just so frustrating. There’s four development coaches at the moment in Carlow. They’re four brilliant coaches and they’re doing their best but we need more, simple as that.

“That has to be first thing, in primary schools with as many development coaches. We need help from a national level to come in and put a plan in place.”

Colm Bonnar celebrates with his players after the game Colm Bonnar celebrating with his players after their 2017 Christy Ring Cup final victory. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

For now the Carlow senior side are planning and plotting themselves for the 2019 season. This is where another problem flares up for Coady. Himself and his Mount Leinster Rangers team-mates are still bruised from their club exit but the call to start working with Colm Bonnar’s county side is coming. The structure of the GAA calendar affords scant time for respite.

“We finished with the club last Sunday and we’ll be going back doing a bit of training this week so you have your nine days, ten days off and then you’re facing into 2019. Every other sport has the off-season and there’s not one in GAA.

“The body has a lot of knocks and a lot of soreness, you don’t have much time because a heavy pre-season has to be put in place.

“The GAA calendar really has no structure. We’re playing Walsh Cup on 10 December so you’re playing matches for 2019 in 2018. Where is the logic in that? So counties have to put down a foundation in November to get a bit done, to be going for December.

“Then they’re playing league on 26 January I think, that’s over the first weekend of March and there’ll be nothing until championship in mid-May.

“If you pushed everything back and 26 February was starting, then you could actually have a month off for players. It’s just from the perspective of getting a bit of rehab done and get the body right for another nine or ten months of gruelling hardship.”

And yet for all his frustrations and concerns about the plight facing Carlow hurling, Coady is enthused at the prospect of a new season packed with novel trips and fresh challenges.

He’s committed about eight seasons to the Carlow senior squad by now. In his family John and Edward gave years of service to the county hurling scene, paving the way for Paul and Richard to now fly the flag. In February 2012 the quartet celebrated in Croke Park as Mount Leinster Rangers won an All-Ireland intermediate final.

Brothers' John Coady, Richard Coady, Paul Coady and Edward Coady celebrate The Mount Leinster Rangers brothers' John, Richard, Paul and Edward Coady celebrate 2013's Leinster final win. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

In December 2013 they were there in Nowlan Park for that seismic afternoon as they landed the Leinster senior club crown and got to sample a St Patrick’s Day senior showpiece the following March against Portumna.

Paul flighted over 0-3 in that game and struck 0-4 as Carlow saw off Westmeath in that Joe McDonagh Cup decider last July.

He’ll be a vital cog in 2019 for a campaign where Carlow will start out in the league away to Dublin in January and in the Leinster senior championship away to Galway in May.

“We’re under no illusions, we’ve a huge amount of work to do in 2019. It was good to get the battle off Limerick in the summer, get the lesson. We know what’s ahead of us.

“We were beaten last Sunday and I didn’t talk to anyone for the week. A couple of locals were trying to remind me that 2018 has been a great year.

“I’ll think about that when I thaw out a small bit. You’d be very disappointed and bitter for a couple of weeks. Sometimes you don’t appreciate it but it has been a great year.

“And every Carlow hurler is looking forward to next year. Dublin, Galway, Waterford and Offaly in the league, and then look forward to May to take on Galway, welcome Dublin and Kilkenny to Netwatch Cullen Park (which) will be amazing.

“There’s going to be a lesson or two along the way absolutely but I’ll be a lot better hurler at the end of June after playing all those matches against those opponents and teams. It’ll be the year that I’ll probably remember when I finish hurling.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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