Laois GAA Chairman Brian Allen has refused to rule the possibility of Laois dropping back to compete in the Christy Ring Cup, as the fall-out from the loss to Cork on Saturday continues to gather pace.
With hurling in the county having arrived at a crossroads following the defeat, Allen admitted dropping down a level could not be ruled out. “If that’s what it takes, we’ll have to look at it, and tease it out with the people involved. Maybe it’s not what people want, maybe they want to hurl in the top flight, but this is not the first time this (a heavy defeat) has happened.
“We lost to Tipperary and Galway in the past and our Qualifiers record is bad. We seem to think the Qualifiers is something we have to do, to get through it and then get back to our clubs.”
With Brendan Fennelly having highlighted the problems involving the tug-of-war between the county set up and the clubs for access to players, he also felt there were serious issues to be sorted out between both the county set up and the clubs. “The demands from clubs on county players is too much, they want them to play in every league game. It’s an on-going problem.”
Allen also pointed to the growing injury list as an example of how the added strain of mixing club and county games took its toll on the squad. “You’ll get out of it what you put into it. The squad were training in Rathdowney a few weeks ago and nine of the starting 15 were injured, and a high proportion of those were training with their clubs.”
Allen also refused to be drawn on the future of Brendan Fennelly, although the Kilkenny man appeared to all but confirm his resignation after Saturday’s game. When asked if he would be putting his name forward for a second year in charge, Fennelly appeared to rule out such a move. “Not at all... the only thing is, in any job, I would hate to be walking out as a loser, you would feel like you would like to contribute something, and I just feel that I have contributed nothing positive this year, for whatever reason.” Fennelly will meet with members of the county board early next week to review the season.
The County Board have also set July 4 as the date for a Forum in which to discuss the current state of Laois hurling. The Forum, which will be chaired by Munster GAA Secretary Pat Fitzgerald, will see all clubs invited to attend, as well as current and former players, club managers and club officials. Brian Allen was keen to stress that this meeting was not called as reaction to Saturday’s game, as the County Board were keen to tackle a number of issues long before what happened at the weekend.
With the players having received their fair share of flak after the defeat too, Allen admitted there are no immediate plans to meet with the panel, although he didn’t rule out any such meeting taking place in the future. “At the moment, if any of them want to come to the forum and share their views they are more than welcome, and we will see what comes from that, but it could be something we look at further down the line.”
Allen also refuted claims from Portlaoise’s Tommy Fitzgerald which disparaged the current managerial set up. Fitzgerald was quoted in a number of national papers on Tuesday hitting back at Brendan Fennelly’s criticism of the Laois players. “What he said on the Sunday night was very unfair to be honest” said Fitzgerald. “He’s bang out of order shifting the blame onto the players. I’d lay it squarely on him and the county board for appointing him. It’s been a disaster from day one.”
Fitzgerald went on to say that the the set up under Niall Rigney had been far superior. “It was a brilliant set up under Niall Rigney. He was brilliant, so professional, so organised and we had full attendance at training. We felt we were making some progress and then your man comes in and it takes ten steps backwards.”
In response to Fitzgerald’s comments, Allen said the structures put in place this year were similar to last year. “We had the same structures this year, but when the panel were asked to come in only 13 of them attended. The Carlow game last year seemed to leave them deflated.”
That poor turnout at the first meeting which was called by the County Board in order for the players to meet Fennelly was highlighted by the Kilkenny man as his first stumbling block as manager. “Before the players ever knew me at the beginning of the year they were invited to meet me. Thirty players were invited to meet me and 13 turned up, and it’s been a bit like that all the way through...
“When you meet the players, and I said to the players that night, surely they would show up to see what kind of a b****x I was even, just to see what this guy has to say for himself, but then, without knowing players, I was making phone calls asking were they going to come in and play for Laois.”
In other hurling news, the county’s U-21 side travel to Wexford Park tonight to take on Wexford in the Leinster semi-final. See page 76 for team and preview.