Galway still committed to Leinster project


THE ARRANGEMENT whereby Galway and Antrim have competed in the Leinster hurling championship is now in its fourth year. In 2013 it is due to be reconsidered but recent remarks by Leinster chief executive Michael Delaney indicate the province is more than happy with the project.

It’s easy to see the attraction for Galway, who have been without even the mildly competitive environment of a provincial championship – they annually beat Roscommon during the brief revival of the Connacht championship by an average of more than 15 points a match – since 2000.

The move was welcomed by Leinster because it added to the provincial championship one of the top hurling counties and was intended to improve the competitiveness in a landscape dominated by Kilkenny who have won 13 of the past 14 titles.

This has been a more qualified success but although Kilkenny continued to win, Galway’s margins of defeat were respectable: four in the 2009 semi-final and seven a year later in the final. Next month Galway are back in the Leinster final to face either the champions again or Dublin, who beat them in last year’s semi-final.

At the weekend Galway annihilated Offaly in Portlaoise but whereas Offaly chair Pat Teehan says there are no objections in the county to Galway contesting Leinster, he is uncertain to what extent the initiative has been a success.

“Well, it has and it hasn’t. There’s definitely been more of a focus on the Leinster championship but I’m not sure if Galway people are buying into it. Crowds have been small enough at their matches.

“They got to a Leinster final two years ago and lost comprehensively to Kilkenny but Kilkenny are beating everyone else and it’s hard to judge the impact it’s had when they’re so dominant but overall, I’d say it’s more competitive.”

Brian Hanley is well-placed to comment on the matter. A former Galway hurler, he now manages Westmeath in the Leinster championship and has faced his own county in each of the past two years. He is unequivocally in favour of the arrangement.

“Definitely and I’d hope they’d roll it out at minor and under-21 level as well. It’s done a great deal for the game in Galway at local level as well. The restructuring of the club championship in the county has been very beneficial and that came about because of the need to fit in with the Leinster championship.

“This has given players do-or-die games with their clubs instead of in the past where the club matches meant nothing until the county players came back. The more knockout hurling the better.

“It’s been excellent for us in Westmeath. We were competitive against Galway and I think gave them as good a game as Offaly did. It’s raised the profile for hurling in the county.”

As referenced by Hanley, one of the issues surrounding long-term integration will be what to do at underage level where Galway have been one of the powerhouses of the game and their arrival in the province would certainly mean fewer titles for everyone else.

Teehan is circumspect about the prospect: “In the case of underage it mightn’t be as straightforward,” he says.

The man who has done much to create Galway’s record at underage is lukewarm about the relocation. Matt Murphy has taken the county minors to six All-Ireland titles and also had two spells with the seniors winning a league title on both occasions.

He believes the provincial system needs to be scrapped not adjusted. “It’s been a poor solution to a problem not of Galway’s making,” he says of the move into Leinster.

“Now London are coming into the All-Ireland (as Christy Ring Cup winners), where will they go? Someone’s going to have to bite the bullet on this. Even the Munster championship isn’t as attractive as some would have you believe.

“Even allowing for the hype around Davy Fitzgerald taking on Waterford there was a poor crowd in Thurles on Sunday. Galway played Offaly as well and if that was a stand-alone fixture it wouldn’t have been near to capacity.

“If you want to retain the four provinces you’re going to have to rewrite the provincial system so that it’s fair and equitable.”

Hanley says that people in Galway hurling haven’t been raised to appreciate the sense of identity the provincial system inculcates in Leinster and Munster.

For Pat Teehan, it’s more an inevitability than the ideal structure.

“I’d imagine it’ll have to stay because what’s the alternative? Galway not having a serious match until August?”