Kerry are not prepared for the challenge of teams like Cork, as things stand. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Token gestures, subterfuge, and fear: how hurling's development is being frustrated

Decision to give Kerry a place in the Munster championship should they win the Joe McDonagh is symbolism.

Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while

- Bob Dylan, “Visions of Johanna”


SPREAD ACROSS FIVE championship tiers, inter-county hurling is shaped by its inequalities. 

At the upper end, the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship is an annual demonstration of the best that the GAA has to offer. Off-Broadway on hurling’s second tier, the Joe McDonagh Cup garners relatively little of the main event’s publicity but remains a highly competitive, engrossing option all the same. 

Descending in terms of quality, hurling in the third, fourth and fifth tiers can occasionally look a world apart from the games shown on television. And yet, while the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher cups effectively occur in a vacuum for all that the country at large is concerned, the same competitiveness largely remains. 

The hurling championship is a broad church, then, and the GAA deserves credit for structuring it to enable each county an opportunity to annually achieve something meaningful.  

The disparity itself should not be celebrated, however. And yet this status quo shows no real sign of being disturbed. 


On Saturday afternoon, it was overwhelmingly decided at the GAA’s Annual Congress that the Kerry hurlers ought to be in with a proper chance of competing in the Munster championship. Should they win the Joe McDonagh Cup, Kerry will now be granted a place in their native provincial competition – no strings attached. 

With 98.2% of delegates voting in favour of Motion 19, there is no sensible argument against it. 

And yet, what will become of Kerry should their hurlers bring this motion into practice? What outcome can they seriously hope to achieve playing in the Munster championship? Imagine they are the sixth team in this year’s round robin and one cannot foresee anything but a quick and occasionally brutal relegation back to where they had come from. 

That is no slight against Kerry hurling. The Joe McDonagh Cup represents their level, and to win that competition is to win a relative All-Ireland. Nothing there could prepare Kerry for the demands Limerick, Cork, Clare, Tipperary and Waterford would make of them, however. 

Yo-yoing between both tiers is a best case scenario. One could argue the merit of semi-regular exposure to a higher calibre of team, but to even earn their place in every second Munster championship – assuming they are relegated in their first few appearances – Kerry would need to win the Joe McDonagh Cup in alternate years. Albeit a relatively new tier still, hurling’s second-best competition has so far shown itself to be anything but such a formality for any county. 

For all that Kerry’s more straight forward passage to the Munster championship is a sensible decision within the parameters of the current five tier structure, it is little more than a symbolic gesture by the GAA. 

The acceptable face of change, it exemplifies the association’s unwillingness to address hurling’s astonishing imbalances. 


As the former Kilkenny coach Martin Fogarty was about to begin his role as national hurling development manager in August 2016, he expressed a desire to “shine a light on the work that is being done to grow the game and to support it and also work to ensure that hurling has a great future”.

When asked two years later if it was fair to suggest that hurling was “on its knees” throughout most of the country, Fogarty told that such an assessment was “a true reflection of the reality”. 

In his curated rule as a hurling evangelist, Fogarty spent much of his time trying to improve the state of the game where it needed it most: north of the Galway-Dublin axis (hurling’s “Mason-Dixon line”, as journalist Declan Bogue described it on Off The Ball last week). 

Although his work was not without significant successes, when Fogarty spoke to Bogue last year about the opportunities and challenges he faced trying to implement a sincere focus on hurling development in territories dominated by Gaelic football, the outcome was largely dispiriting.

“There is subterfuge,” he explained. “I have seen where lads are saying they are going to play hurling and then all of a sudden, they can be off the football panel. And all the manager has to say is that the player is not good enough.

“You get the same within clubs and counties. You have managers saying, ‘You’ll not get on that football squad unless you give up the hurling.’”

An either/or ultimatum that typically falls in football’s favour. Fogarty’s spell as national hurling development manager ended in late 2021. 

The GAA has yet to announce his replacement. 


Fundamentally, the GAA are not concerned with evening out hurling’s imbalances. 

In the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship they possess a competition that is routinely excellent. But no more so than World Rugby’s overwhelming focus on their nine or 10 top-tier nations, the GAA has demonstrated no real determination to upset their primary powerbrokers. 

At a local level, counties low enough down the Gaelic football foodchain nevertheless tend to wield significant power over their hurling counterparts. 

It is nice to see that Kerry will be rewarded with a place in the Munster championship should they win the Joe McDonagh Cup. But as with most decisions made by the GAA regarding counties on the second tier or below, it is little more than a token gesture. 

On the same Saturday that Motion 19 was overwhelmingly carried by the GAA Congress, Motion 11 was rejected with 65% of delegates voting against it. A suggestion that every GAA club will be compelled to field at least one hurling team at U7, U8, U9 and U10 levels, it was proposed by Liam Griffin’s club, St Mary’s of Rosslare. 

“Too many young people are being denied the opportunity to play the game of hurling,” the All-Ireland winning Wexford manager of 1996 said beforehand.

“We don’t want to be dictatorial (with the motion) and get to a situation where it gives people a chance to rubbish it. What is wrong with starting up with it. The fear is it might catch fire.” 

One of Ireland’s most significant cultural pastimes, hurling is more widely celebrated in museums than on playing fields. 

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