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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Martin Breheny

No interest in an All-Ireland title – are Galway serious?

Galway players celebrate after their 2020 Electric Ireland All-Ireland MHC final win over Kilkenny, played in July 2021 due to the pandemic, in Portlaoise. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

It was such an incredible statement that it required a second reading to make sure nothing had been missed first time. Surely, the top official in the second largest county in the country wasn’t saying they had no interest in winning an All-Ireland title. Yes, he was – and unequivocally so.

Galway County Board chairman Paul Bellew made the following comment to my colleague Colm Keys last week: “It’s about the games – it’s about development. We have won a lot of minors (titles) in the past, but we have no interest in winning minors anymore. It’s about getting the lads through.”

What? Galway, All-Ireland minor hurling champions for six of the last 12 seasons and 12 of the last 23 years, don’t care if they win no more? Really?

Galway’s underage success, the product of excellent structures and hard work at so many levels, is the envy of many counties, who will, no doubt, be surprised to hear that the Tribesmen are losing interest in the Irish Press Cup.

Wexford, who last won the title in 1968, Dublin (1965), Offaly (1989), Clare (1997), Waterford (2013) and Laois, Westmeath and Antrim, who have never won it, would take a very different view of the importance of a minor title.

So did Galway back in 1983, when the John Fahy-managed, Cyril Farrell-coached team won the title for the first time, ending a run of 11 defeats in finals.

19 June 2022; Cullen Killeen of Galway in action against Adam Daly, left, and Chris O'Donnell of Tipperary during the Electric Ireland GAA Hurling All-Ireland Minor Championship Semi-Final match between Tipperary and Galway at the LIT Gaelic Grounds in Lim

It was regarded as hugely important in Galway – and so it proved as several of that team (Joe Cooney, Gerry McInerney, Anthony Cunningham, John Commins, Pat Malone, Seán Treacy and Tom Monaghan) went on to win All-Ireland U-21 medals in 1986 and senior medals in 1987-’88.

Galway won 11 minor titles over the last 30 years, including four in a row between 2017 and 2020. You wonder what Mattie Murphy, John Hardiman, Jeffrey Lynskey and Brian Hanley, who managed them to those successes, think of the latest outbreak of indifference. And what about the players and the many others associated with those wins?

As for the 2023 minor crop, they will find Bellew’s comments confusing. “We have a very good team coming next year – we may win it under the current format, but it’s not about winning it. We would rather play seven games and lose it than play three and win it,” he said. Somehow, I doubt if the players will see it that way since they are pursuing their first big dream of winning an All-Ireland title. So, why has the minor grade suddenly become unpopular at official level in Galway?

In fairness to Bellew, he is fighting a just war to get equality in terms of games for the minors. Under the current system, Galway are guaranteed just two championship outings in an All-Ireland round-robin with the beaten Leinster and Munster finalists. And that’s where the crux lies. Their first outing this year was against Clare, who had played five games in Munster. Next up was Laois, who had six games in Leinster.

Galway won both, but that’s not the point. Where’s the logic in a system that has a team entering a competition against opposition which have had 11 games between them?

They are keen to join either the Leinster or Munster championships and will be calling on Congress in February to make that happen. The problem is that counties in both provinces don’t want a very strong maroon cuckoo arriving in their nest. There’s a bigger picture here, and if Leinster and Munster aren’t prepared to look at it, they need to be handed glasses by Croke Park.

Galway already compete in the Leinster senior and U-20 championships, so why not at minor level, too? They are right to fight as vigorously as they can, as the current system is fundamentally flawed.

Galway clubs should compete in either Leinster or Munster, too, and, according to Bellew, are prepared to do that if the minors are accommodated. Those battles can be waged without downgrading the minor championship by declaring Galway won’t care if they don’t win another one. There’s frustration that so many minor titles haven’t yielded a greater harvest at senior level and, in fairness, it’s baffling why that’s the case.

Still, it’s not the fault of the minors, or those who have guided them so successfully. They handed dozens of them on as All-Ireland winners, so surely it’s the next phase of the development that needs to be examined. That’s where the difficulty appears to rest.

Innovative Burgess plan seeks more extra-time

Play on or penalty shoot-out? Which do you prefer as a means of deciding a game which has finished level after extra-time?

Penalties are currently the chosen method – and have been required on several occasions at club and county level this year – but the Burgess club in Tipperary want it changed.

They have a motion at county convention proposing that penalties be replaced by another period of extra-time, where the first team to score two points (or a goal) wins. Obviously, that could take quite a while, especially in football, or be over quite quickly.

Presumably, their argument will be that allowing play to continue involves all 30 players as opposed to two goalkeepers and 10 (if needed) penalty kickers, making it a fairer way of deciding the game.

I like the penalty drama in what is a real test of skill in both football and hurling but many in the GAA believe there’s a better way. If there’s to be a change, the Burgess plan certainly has merit.

Don’t ask my age – it’s strictly personal

Kevin De Bruyne gave an early indication that all wasn’t well in the Belgium camp when he suggested their World Cup squad was too old.

It hinted at fractured morale and their performances did everything to support that theory.

Naturally, the media rushed to compare Belgium’s age profile with all the others and discovered that they did, indeed, have one of the oldest squads.

It’s unlikely any GAA player will make such a contentious comment before next year’s championship, but even if they do, the media will find it difficult to make age comparisons.

Player ages, a feature of match programmes for decades, have largely disappeared in recent years due to an unwillingness of counties, acting presumably on player instructions, to provide the information. GDPR, apparently, and the right to protect such vital personal details as age.

What next? We’re not wearing jerseys with numbers as it invades our privacy by identifying us. Seriously, don’t rule it out.

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