Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Declan Bogue: Kilkenny spared endless shame

Kilkenny footballers will not compete in next year’s National League, with their board opting for a move to Britain

last week, the news broke that Kilkenny footballers will not compete in the National League for 2013, around about the same time the rough draft of fixtures were published.

The players had not been consulted over the idea. The first many of them heard about it was through the media, who were alerted of the plan at Kilkenny's county board meeting on October 8.

An alternative course of action was hatched that sees them travelling to Britain to compete in the All-Ireland Junior Championship next summer and it received unanimous support. It was reported that GAA President Liam O'Neill was involved in some way over the decision. Their involvement in the Leinster Under-21 Championship was also suspended indefinitely.

Such a drastic measure was bound to meet with anger from the Kilkenny players. JJ Grace, a footballer who is considered to be one of their most dedicated, described it rather floridly as ‘a kick in the balls’. Paul Donnelly conveyed his hurt that the county board did not consult with the players and said that competing in Britain was a backward step.

Outside of Kilkenny, the world was indifferent to their plight. A quick scan of their record since they rejoined the National League in 2008 tells us why. They only won one game; against London.

In the first couple of years, the opposition would frequently name their second-string players, and still win handsomely. There was the odd moral victory for the Cats and they managed to avoid complete humiliation.

Since the introduction of scoring difference having a say in the promotion chase though, they have been ritually slaughtered.

Last year was brutal. It began with a 30-point trouncing at home to Wicklow, Kilkenny managing to score 1-1 over seventy minutes of football.

Over eight games, their average score was 4.25 points per game. The average margin of defeat was 29.875.

It was the 9-23 that Fermanagh struck against them that really set alarm bells ringing. One player confided in a Fermanagh opponent that he had been training that morning with the county under-21 hurlers. It had been a particularly gruelling session that he was not excused from.

Seven different Fermanagh players scored goals that day. That is not competition in any form. The idea of the National League is devalued by games of this sort.

Yet when the news broke that Kilkenny were pulling out for next year, it represented the first example of this kind of drastic action upon a football side. Within the underage ranks, there was no indication that life could have got any better for them in the short to medium term. The under-21 side faced Louth in the Leinster Championship and were beaten by 50 points. Yes, 50 points.

The Kilkenny county board are unwilling to be doomed by repeating their mistakes. Instead, they pulled out of competition.

There is nothing wrong with their course of action. While it was a swift action and a bold statement, it was the only sensible thing to do. It is in nobody's interest to fulfil a role of a turkey shoot for other counties with an established football tradition.

Only last year, Cavan chairman Tom Reilly announced that their county hurling team would not play as a senior entity for five years. The final straw came when seven players turned up for a training session as they began their preparations for the Lory Meagher Cup. There was only one club in the county in Mullahoran. The rest of the hurlers would amalgamate under the umbrella of Woodford Gaels and play a sham final. Reilly said he was fed up ‘living a lie.'

Time has proved Reilly correct. A year before, he put in place plans to develop nine hurling clubs on a regional basis, without the kind of strict club binds that can sometimes hinder progress.

In Kilkenny's case, the county board have shown zero appetite to accommodate their footballers. They are unashamedly hurling-oriented and the way they see it is the rest of the world just have to put up with it.

Until such times as they are forced to get their act together, the footballers are better spared the endless humiliations that done nothing to promote football in the county.

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