'People outside the county don't understand' - Wexford defend hurling-football split

Wexford GAA have elected to continue to split their hurling and football championships, after the format was the subject of significant debate in recent weeks.

Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THE SPLIT SEASON debate in Wexford is different to that on the national landscape.

The split in question focuses on the Model County’s decision to conclude their hurling championships before football gets underway, rather than the club vs county divide.

The county’s senior hurling decider took place on 14 August this year, before the big ball action kicked off.

The approach, which is similarly employed in Waterford and Carlow, has drawn many critics.

But Wexford GAA confirmed this week that the system has been given the green light for another season, although the vote was significantly closer than last year.

“It was a very rational discussion. I wouldn’t say it was impassioned or contested,” Wexford GAA chairman Micheál Martin told The42.

“It was very tight…I didn’t have to make a casting vote, but it was very tight.

“There was definitely an understanding that if players were to come into the room and vote, that it would be overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the current system. Overwhelmingly.

“Almost 90% of players would be in favour of keeping this system.

“People outside the county just don’t understand the nuance. In the senior hurling championship, every one of those players effectively, if they were to go out the following week, ok they might be shuffling positions, but out of the 15 starters, 12 would be the same, and the other three would probably be the first subs on. That nuance of how dual we are is almost unique.

“Loughmore in Tipperary are an example, but 90% of our clubs are like Loughmore.

“So sometimes, there’s a bit of bemusement in Wexford when we read about a certain dual club being highlighted and lauded, because that is effectively every club [in Wexford] from underage to adult.

“So the clear preference of all those players is to play one code to a finish, and then concentrate on the other code. We’ve had years of situations where there would be a lot of in-fighting in a lot of those clubs. The hurling manager would be wanting to do one thing during football and so-on.”

declan-byrne-lifts-the-trophy Ferns St Aidan's were one of the earliest county champions to be crowned in 2022 Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Martin acknowledged that it does not fully cater for everyone, but insisted there is no silver bullet for the issue.

“Now we do realise that a small cohort, and some of them might be vocal on social media, it does leave in-and-around 10% of players who are single-code to only play football,” he noted.

“Their preference would be either to alternate codes, or football to go first because they do have a seven-to-eight week wait. But we are a dual county. We cater primarily for dual players. That’s the disadvantage of being a single-code player.

“Do I have sympathy? Yes I do, because my own club are a single-code football [club], so we’re slightly different in Wexford Town. But that’s the clear preference for dual players.”

lee-chin-inspects-the-pitch-ahead-of-the-game The majority of the county's biggest stars play both codes for their clubs Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

Many have mused that Ferns St Aidan’s were handicapped by the 13-week lay-off between their county hurling final win and Leinster Championship quarter-final defeat to St Mullin’s of Carlow.

Rapparees were faced with a similar challenge in 2021, as they fell to Clough-Ballacolla in their opening assignment in the province.

“You’d have to have concerns,” Martin conceded.

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“Although I think this year’s one in particular, St Mullin’s had the exact same [break]. I know for a fact that Ferns would not use that as an excuse. And Ferns would have been strongly in favour of continuing the split season, as were Castletown who are our senior football champions.

“[Ferns] probably feel they wouldn’t have won the county championship in the first place were it not for the split season. And I think the ‘Rapps’ the year before would have felt the same. So they wouldn’t have been in a position to represent the county but for the split season, because of their dual nature.

“So does it impact on the performances of our teams going into the provinces? I think we’d have to say yes. But the clubs seem willing to live with that.

“The counter balance to that is our football representatives have gone from not being in any way competitive over a 10-year period to in the last two years being very competitive. Castletown, you could argue, were really unlucky against Portarlington.

“And our intermediate and junior champions are both in Leinster finals.

“Yet there would be some people that argue that this system is not good for football. Some would argue that argue that it’s not good for hurling nor football! It’s a very tricky balance.”

corey-byrne-dunbar-and-diarmuid-doyle-with-philip-dempsey Ferns St Aidan's suffered a two-point defeat to St Mullin's in the Leinster Championship Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

And he feels that counties should be afforded more time to produce a winner, warning that were Wexford’s county teams to reach the latter stages of the championship, they could struggle to finish their club competitions in time for the Leinster Championship.

“If our intercounty teams were to proceed further, it would be extremely tight, extremely squeezed. Even with all that, it might mean we would miss a provincial deadline,” he stated.

“We literally have 16 weeks to play our championship. We started 10 days after we were beaten by Clare (in the All-Ireland SHC quarter-final). We started midweek, played every weekend. We didn’t lose any weekends to weather or bereavements. And our football champions played [in Leinster] the week after the county final.

“So we do feel the provincial football championships started a few weeks too early. It put unnecessary pressure. Counties should be given until 1 November.”

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