A lengthy debate on the current state and the future of hurling in Laois dominated the July meeting of the Laois County Board.
Numerous delegates raised concerns over a variety of aspects of hurling including the unavailability of some players for the senior panel, the senior management and whether it would be better to have a local management team, the level and type of training, strength and conditioning and difficulties in getting selectors amongst other issues.
The debate came on the back of the exit of county teams from their respective championships but centred mainly on the situation surrounding the county team.
Hurling Board Chairman Kieran Delaney said that people ‘saw for themselves’ at the Limerick game where Laois were and he said there was ‘no magic wand’ to fix it.
He conceded that there were problems however he outlined the amount of effort the players on the panel put in which included an average of three sessions a week and 23 total games played.
He said it was hard to match the top level unless something drastic was done to address things.
Mr Delaney complimented the U-21s on a good campaign and while he added that Kilkenny were too strong in the final, he struck an optimistic note when he outlined how 15 of the panel were eligible for next year.
He commented that it was vital to continue the good work being done at minor and U-21 level and to push those talented players through to the senior ranks.
In response to specific questions about why some players who were good enough were not on the county panel, Mr Delaney was adamant that there was nobody who was not contacted. He outlined how there were 80 to 90 players to start with and that everybody had been asked ‘several times’.
He conceded that three or four high profile players did not come in adding that another 15 could have been picked from players not on the panel.
However Mr Delaney was staunch in his defence of the players who did hurl for the county saying that those who came in ‘wanted to hurl and train for Laois’. He said they were together 15 times a month from January and he praised them for their commitment.
“They all wanted to be there for Laois,” he remarked.
On the question of strength and conditioning work being done over the winter he noted the stark statistic that of 19 players doing individual programmes, 13 didn’t make the panel.
Questions continued to be raised over why individual players would not come into the county team and Coaching Officer Peter O’Neill noted that you can only pick players who want to play.
Kieran Delaney said that in each case where a player didn’t come in, a reason was given and he outlined how the vast majority of reasons given were work commitments and college.
County Board Chairman Brian Allen noted that there have always been players who won’t come into a county team. He told delegates that the managers have to work with what they have and he questioned whether it would be better it was better to have a player in training who wasn’t giving 100% who might take the place of another who was giving his all.
Central Council Delegate Anthony Delaney said that it was now time to have a look and see where the county goes from here.
He noted that Laois were now in the third tier in league hurling and he noted that no other team in the division played at A standard in Minor or U-21. Striking a positive note however he said that this was a chance to build on the underage success and to blood younger players at senior level.
Brian Allen noted that the number of people locally willing to give the effort with teams has reduced as the time demands have increased.
He said that he accepted the suggestion of a number of delegates that it might be better to build locally over a period of time in terms of management.
In a stark assessment of the current situation he said that Laois hurling was simply not at the level at the minute and he said other counties had moved ‘light years ahead’.
He noted that the work was being done up along the line by other counties and he commented with incredulity on what he had seen at the Feile where U-14 teams from other counties had their own masseurs and were using ice baths.
Mr Allen said the county needed to spend wisely to bring players along through the underage system and he also commented on the pressure being put on young players to play with their clubs when training or playing with the county.
The lengthy discussion ended with a well received comment from the floor regarding the transition of players from development squads to minor and U-21. It was noted that while the Setanta Programme was proving a great success, there was a drop off then when it came to transitioning to minor.
Rather than leaving players ‘in the wilderness’ for two year, it was proposed that a bridge be put in place to keep the younger players developing