Louth's Adam Plunkett, Peter Fortune and Jamie McDonnell celebrate their 2022 Lory Meagher Cup win. Tom Maher/INPHO

'People might not realise it but hurling is clinging on in these counties'

Peter Fortune and Joe Fortune spoke about the state of hurling on RTÉ’s League Sunday.

LOUTH CAPTAIN PETER Fortune and Westmeath manager Joe Fortune have spoken passionately on the state of hurling in the so-called ‘weaker counties’.

The future of hurling was in the spotlight on RTÉ’s League Sunday programme last night, with the duo sharing their respective experiences.

In his annual report published last week, GAA Director General Tom Ryan defended a recent proposal to cut five counties from the National Hurling League. Fielding the teams is “simply papering over the cracks,” he said. 

Peter Fortune and Joe Fortune joined Ursula Jacob and Liam Sheedy to speak through some of the issues, assess the hurling landscape and suggest how to grow the game.

Louth’s Fortune, who hails from the St Mullin’s club in Carlow, gave an impassioned plea on the lack of visibility in the lower tiers.

“I was sent to training at four years old, there was a helmet put on my head, I was put in the back of my neighbour’s car and I never looked back. That’s my hurling journey,” he said.

“That journey is not there for children in all of these counties, and that is an issue.

“The game itself will sell. We have to get the children to see the game, and at the minute, they just don’t see the game. They see snippets of it here and there. Yes, they can watch something like tonight and they can see Limerick, Kilkenny and Tipperary, but they need to see their local heroes.

“They need to see a Luke McCusker from Fermanagh. They need to see a Conor Murphy from Louth.

“I won 100 All-Irelands in my back garden growing up. That’s the dream I want to sell tonight to the GAA. There’s a generation of hurlers here now who have had this frustration. We’ve felt it. I’m only with Louth five years and I’ve felt it. 

“There’s a generation of hurlers here who are crying out and just asking, ‘We don’t want the next generation to feel like we feel.’ ”

Fortune, who is also a GPA representative, called on Croke Park to implement a long-term plan and deploy a taskforce. 

“Let’s think outside the box. We discussed ideas: a festival of hurling for the Ring, Rackard and Meagher finals and getting children into Croke Park. 

“People might not realise it but hurling is clinging on in these counties. And it is the same people who have kept it alive for those couple of years, keeping it alive today.

“A strategic plan has to be put in place, the time and funding has to be given to it.”

Westmeath boss Fortune is a native of Wexford and has seen similar disparity. He worries if there is a lack of leadership in the GAA to grow the game of hurling, particularly in the smaller counties.

“We have to, first of all, realise that there is a problem,” the Joe McDonagh Cup winning manager said.

“The reason that some people are stepping away is because that sense of humility at the top level is not there. There’s not a realisation that there is a problem.

“There’s a massive difference between managing an organisation and leading it. We need leaders to stand up. Where is the back-up after successful days? Where’s the real people on the ground? We don’t need a hurling evangelist going around spreading the gospel with sessions here and there. 

“I often wonder if you brought someone in from a different country with no knowledge of our game whatsoever, how hard it would be to explain provincially how we’re set up and the access to proper facilities, how it’s so different from the top seven or eight down to where I am, down to where Peter is.

“I think we’ve lost a sense of it’s about inclusivity, it’s about management, but it’s about leadership too. As an Association, I think we’re concentrating too much on certain areas being better than others.

“Lead from the top, realise there’s a big difference, there’s a big gap. There has to be a sense of longevity to this.”

You can watch the full discussion here:

RTÉ Sport / YouTube

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