Ash crisis runs straight to roots of GAA
“We’re still operating on that premise,” says Daly, “that there would be adequate supply in this country by 2017. We’ve been working with the Department all along, and with Coillte, to ensure there was that element of self sufficiency, and we’re happy we’re moving in that direction.”
Should the disease spread, however, the GAA could have a serious problem on its hands: of all the challenges facing hurling in the modern era – balancing the physicality, spreading the competitiveness, etc – this one runs straight to the roots.
“Hurley manufacture in Ireland is a big enough industry, no doubt about that, with a lot of people involved. Maybe 60-70 guild members, but twice as many again, operating on their own. Members of the hurling guild are already saying they’re finding it harder to get a supply, that it’s getting scarce, and that’s an evitable side effect to what’s happening.
“Prices are already rising, too. If the bark has to be removed, the wood dried, that’s an additional cost, and if there’s any scarcity then obviously prices will increase.”
Daly has been present at weekly meetings with the Department of Agriculture on the matter, and is so far satisfied with their recognition of the problem – including that of Shane McEntee, Minister of State at the Department.
“It’s being monitored on a daily basis, really, with ‘no stone being be left unturned’, as McEntee said,” says Daly.
“He’s coming from a strong GAA background, another reason why it’s one of his foremost concerns. We’ve had hurley makers represented at the meetings too, and we’d have ongoing dialogue, because there’s no doubt it’s a serious cause of concern for them,” he adds.
Truth is no one is entirely sure of the exact extent of the problem, or how long fears about ash supply might last. The GAA has already approved the manufacture of a synthetic hurley, the Cúltec, made from a mix of materials including nylon and graphite (with Dublin hurler Ryan O’Dwyer one of the few confessed users). Although only marginally more expensive, Daly believes players will always have a greater preference for the traditional ash hurl.
“We wouldn’t necessarily encourage the use of one over the other, but for most players the preference is still very much for ash,” he says.
If any good does come out the problem, however, it will be focusing the GAA’s efforts in becoming self-sufficient in ash supply. “If we can get four or five acres of ash planted in every county, every year, ensure they’re properly maintained, then we could reach that high level of sustainability,” he adds.