Ciarán Murphy: Case of Galway minors to test if hurling counties can see beyond own self-interest

County’s minor hurlers aiming to be included in either Leinster or Munster championship

Four days after Galway’s All-Ireland senior hurling final win over Waterford in 2017, I wrote in these pages about how that success came on the back of the first sustained piece of team-building that Galway had ever had the chance to embark upon, from the Leinster final defeat of Kilkenny in 2012 to the summit of the game five years later.

Before that time and well after the introduction of the back door and the qualifiers, Galway had been treated as second-class citizens - refused entry to either the Munster or Leinster provincial competitions - and facilitated in the qualifiers in some ham-fisted way or other, sometimes in a round-robin, other times afforded a second chance in the case of a loss . . . but only if that loss was to Antrim.

Galway’s arrival in the Leinster senior championship in 2009 should have been the end of all that. But even after that date, right up to the year of that All-Ireland win, they were not allowed to host senior provincial championship games. They were allowed to play All-Ireland qualifier games in Galway, but they were still only associate members of the Leinster championship it seemed - and their provincial opponents were keen to remind them of that.

It was only as the new round-robin provincial series came into being that Galway were finally allowed to bring teams to Pearse Stadium for home games in Leinster. Their U-21 team was similarly only allowed to participate in the Leinster championship from 2018, ending the practice of them joining the competition every year at the All-Ireland semi-final stage.


If that seems like the final act of a long, 21-year march from the opening of the back door to the full acceptance of Galway as a hurling county worthy of the same basic respect as every other team, then you’d be wrong - because the systemic unfairness that generations of Galway hurlers had to suffer is still being meted out to their underage players.

Galway still do not take part in the Leinster minor championship. Since 2018 (leaving aside the Covid-affected years of 2020 and 2021), Galway have been accommodated in a quarter-final group stage against the losers of the Munster and Leinster finals, who both have extensive provincial campaigns – six games each, in the case of Clare and Laois last year - behind them already.

Galway are going to Congress next weekend with a motion to change all that. They are proposing they join either the Munster or Leinster minor championship. They just want the same number of games for their young players as every other county gets.

The fact that they are mentioning joining Munster as a possibility is a fairly frank admission that after years of asking Leinster to do the right thing, they don’t expect any miracles from those quarters.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner yesterday, Galway county board chairman Paul Bellew put it as plainly as he could. “Basically, we want to go into the competition at the same stage as everybody else. I’ve no doubt it will result in us winning less All-Irelands than we have been doing and we’re totally okay with that. We just want to go in at the start and get the same access to games as others.

“I would also add we are 100 per cent fully open to our club hurling championships being integrated into the provincial championships as well. We want to be equal across the board – senior, U-20, minor and club. No barriers.”

You don’t often hear people, in any walk of life, volunteer to make success harder for themselves. You certainly don’t hear that being said by Galway’s compatriots in the Leinster championship, who are so concerned with Galway hoovering up whatever scraps Kilkenny had previously left them to fight it out for, that they’ll stare fairness in the face and say, ‘not today, thanks’.

Going straight into All-Ireland quarter- and semi-finals has been a poisoned chalice for Galway intercounty hurling. At club level, where the Galway champions have already gone through a rigorous assessment of their abilities from their neighbours, the advantages of not having a provincial championship to fight through are obvious. That Galway are also willing to pass up that advantage is a sign of their bona fides in this. They just want to start at the same spot as everyone else. It really is as simple as that.

Galway are far from sure they will get the 60 per cent required for this motion to pass. Hurling-focused delegates to Congress have been heard in the past to bemoan the fact that delegates from Cavan, or Donegal, or some other small-ball backwater, get a chance to vote on issues pertaining to the protection and promotion of their sport.

But on this occasion, distance from the issue clarifies it quite beautifully. They might well look on the make-up of the 2023 Leinster championship, which includes two teams from Ulster, and Kerry, and say - maybe Galway moving to the Leinster championship is not the devastating blow to the sanctity of the provincial championships that it’s being painted as.

If hurling counties directly involved cannot vote in any way other than in selfish self-interest, then maybe independent adjudicators from places north of Athlone, not quite so beholden to the idea of a few less Leinster titles for Offaly or Wexford or whoever, are in a better position to judge what the right thing is to do next week.