By Michael McMullan
THE Fermanagh senior hurling camp are calling on Central Council delegates to shoot down a recommendation that would see them frozen out of the National Hurling League from 2025 onwards.
The recommendation – seen by Gaelic Life and which will be voted on next month – outlines that any county with less than five adult hurling clubs would only participate in the Lory Meagher Cup without an option of promotion.
It would see the six-month inter-county season halved for the counties in question. The money previously used for the National League would be channelled into an “investment package” for hurling development initiatives.
The recommendation explains that the project would be “cost neutral” against the current spend on hurling within the counties.
Then, once a county can field five or more adult club teams, for a period of three years, they can be reinstated in the National Hurling League.
Rory Porteous, Fermanagh’s GPA rep, agrees there should be investment in hurling but not at the expense of the current inter-county senior teams.
The Fermanagh squad only became aware of the recommendation in various media outlets and correspondence with members from the other affected counties.
“The chairman of the Fermanagh Hurling Development Committee, who happens to be my Dad (John), found out from me on Tuesday,” Porteous said.
Fermanagh, Cavan, Louth, Longford and Leitrim representatives have been in constant contact to pick through the bones of what the recommendation outlines.
“The entire (Fermanagh) panel and management team and the county board members I spoke with, they are all unanimously against it,” Porteous told Gaelic Life.
“From what I understand, after talking to the other counties involved, their panels and management are also all against it.”
“There are five counties in danger of being cut adrift and the ladder pulled up behind the teams above us, leaving us left behind.”
Porteous said the Fermanagh squad has always had a healthy relationship with their county board in terms support for hurling. Together, they’ve made progress in recent seasons.
“It could be damaged to a point where it could kill hurling in Fermanagh altogether if this was to go through,” he said.
Porteous agrees that everyone involved in hurling wants the sport to grow and points to progress in the Erne County.
On top of Lisbellaw, an established club, Erne Gaels are back and contested the Junior final with Lisnaskea. There are “four or five” other clubs with hurling at juvenile level and hoping to grow into senior teams.
Now is time to invest in hurling alongside a fully functioning county team, in League and Championship, rather than “locking” teams away in the Lory Meagher Cup until a county meets the stipulation of five adult teams.
“They (new clubs) don’t appear out of thin air, they are going to take years to build up from the grassroots,” Porteous said.
“There is a chance we could have six or seven adult clubs in the next few years if the clubs continue to grow from underage.”
Porteous sees the danger of players opting out in the interim. Other sports may be the attractive alternative when National League hurling and Championship progression are no longer on the table.
“We won a Lory Meagher title and played very well in the Nickey Rackard Cup for two years and we are back down again,” Porteous said of the last few seasons.
He knows what Fermanagh must strive for. The pre-season chatter ahead of 2024 will be a climb back from Division 3B and to win the Lory Meagher Cup.
The problem will arise with the passing of this recommendation seeing them “kicked out” of the league and remaining at Lory Meagher Cup level in the championship.
“We could’ve one more season where we are in the National League and treated like every other county and then we are basically excommunicated,” he said.
“If you are an adult hurler in Fermanagh, you can’t sit down at the start of the year and say that one of our goals is come up with another adult club. That’s not the responsibility of the players, that’s a separate issue.”
Porteous, on behalf the Fermanagh squad, is calling for the recommendation to be voted down so they can continue to play in all competitions with additional funds brought in to support what is happening in Fermanagh.
He wants the progress he feels the recommendation won’t deliver without a “clear plan” as an alternative.
As he sees it, counties are being asked to vote at Central Council in December to make these cuts now and then come up with a plan later. It is “waffly” and the Fermanagh squad wanting more.
“We want the support of all the Central Council delegates to vote this recommendation down and come back to the table with a more well thought out idea for developing hurling in these counties,” he said.
“We do want more investment but not at the cost of five county senior teams. Realistically, if that recommendation goes through, you will kill off hurling in those counties very quickly.
“There are a lot of green shoots already but they need to nurtured and grown that way instead of being burned to the ground and starting everything from scratch.”
Players who are playing on the inter-county hurling teams now are the coaches and Development Officers of the future.
Porteous also feels those who trudge the sticky path to promote hurling where it isn’t strong will face an even tougher route to progress.
“We feel this is a hidden way of cutting costs,” he adds. “It is pretending that this money is going to be saved on preparing the inter-county teams and it is going to appear in a fund for developing hurling.
“Very often, those funds and money don’t materialise the way it is promised or should be and you don’t see the benefit of it.”
The GAA must come back with a clear plan. Porteous is clear. Invest in hurling across the counties, but don’t take it away first and wonder why the game has disappeared.
He uses an example from last season of why the recommendation has no mileage. Despite a chastening League and Championship that saw the Erne men relegated on both fronts, they beat Mayo in Ederney in the League.
“Ederney is one of the juvenile hurling clubs hoping to have an adult team in the future,” Porteous explained.
“All the Fermanagh players, we were swamped at full time after win. We were signing jerkies and hurls; we never had anything like it.
“Whenever this (recommendation) news came out, I got a message from one of the boys who said it was one of the best moments of his career…full stop…and he has won plenty.
“To say that what we are doing, playing for the senior inter-county team, isn’t benefiting the development of hurling is so misleading.
“In my opinion, it is doing more for the benefit of hurling than anything suggested in this recommendation.”