Today is the day Offaly hurling will change as we know it.
A hot topic in the world of GAA in recent days, the development of Offaly hurling will finally get the spotlight it deserves.
For years, we were a county of all talk and no action. Faithful natives would criticise and throw abusive comments to players, county board officials and managers. It was what we did. The standard of inter-county hurling, club hurling and lack of underage development was discussed on air, off air, on paper, off paper. The dogs in the street knew where the problems were, but they also knew there was nothing being done about it.
Words and debates were thrown around, but there was nothing accomplished.
It quickly became part of my culture growing up, to call players “shite” and “useless” and “what’s he doing playing county?” But little did I know growing up listening to side-line abuse that our neighbour counties were maturing, like a slow cheese they were developing their u14’s and 16’s to be the hybrid hurlers of the future. While Offaly people sat on bar stools discussing our problems for weeks.
That’s all we did, sat on bar stools and gave out.
It is the players who give up their time and energy to wear the Offaly jerseys who have been let down the most.
In the 90’s when Offaly were winning All-Ireland’s, Kilkenny were creating development plans for the next generation. These seeds were sown and they have reaped 11 All-Ireland’s to date since we won our last All-Ireland back in ‘98. How we have fallen from our glory days at the top of the Croke Park steps.
Eventually it caught up on us, Offaly couldn’t compete. Laois and Westmeath defeated us. “A new low” became the phrased tied to Offaly hurling. Westmeath demolished us, Laois defeated us at both minor and senior level, we were regraded to the Leinster round robin, could we steep any lower? The days that followed our Westmeath defeat was some of the darkest days for Offaly hurling. The lack of action stirred hurling supporters, the revolution was brewing. This time instead of talking behind closed doors about the gaps and the lowering of standards, we shouted. Every high profile player talked about their concern at the lack of underage development, the latest losses at all age groups and questions gained momentum.
The change was coming, the cracks were starting to show. We were sick of talking.
It took us a long time to take action but we were finally ready to do something. Those who did take action were set aside to gather dust. When the Offaly county board announced they were putting an Offaly Hurling Review Committee in place. It was like breath of fresh air, a glimmer of hope to put Offaly hurling back on track. The 12 person panel built of Offaly legends and hurling greats knew the problems before they started, they knew where to look and what to do about it. The report named Offaly Hurling Pathway: Building A Founding For Future Success was prepared, perfected but left sitting for 13 months as our hurlers continued to spiral downwards with no base of underage development in comparison to our opposition.
Two weeks, that’s all it would take to implement the hurling pathway. Chairperson of the Offaly Hurling Review Committee Liam Hogan told Will O’Callaghan of Midlands Sport that the committee began work using the recommendations from the path way, work supported by the county board. Support which was very short lived.
Listening to Liam Hogan on Midlands 103 this morning, it felt surreal, like the closing episode of House of Cards. Awaiting the pieces of Offaly hurling as we know it to crumble, but we need this. More than ever, we need this shake up to get us back on track.