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30 March 2006 Edition

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The Matt Treacy Column

Hurling needs more competition

I was going to tell you something about Baby Guinesses but I've forgotten what it was. It will come back to me I'm sure. Dublin's enigmatic League form continued last Saturday with a comprehensive victory over Mayo at Parnell Park. This assures them of avoiding relegation and even holds out the possibility, slim as it is, of making the play-offs.

If my mathematics are correct, a Dublin victory of five points or more over Kerry, and Tyrone losing at least one of their remaining matches by a similar margin, would put Dublin through. All we need now is for the other four teams in the equation to get with the programme. Especially Kerry.

Mayo will not be particularly upset over their defeat, although that might not have been immediately obvious from Mickey Moran's remarks after the match. I don't know. Maybe it is because I was reared on Dublin and Meath and Kerry. Whatever they might have thought, Boylan and Heffernan and O'Dwyer didn't excuse defeats by blaming the referee for penalties and sendings off. "I'm not taking away from our opponents victory. But ....". I am really! Not that that would be a traditional Mayo attitude either.

It was interesting to see Mayo's insistence on hand passing the ball from one end of the pitch being criticised as the wrong tactic for dodgy underfoot conditions. Interesting for the reason that it was Cork's more effective, fast and direct use of the same game plan that laid the basis for their defeat of Dublin a few weeks back. Perhaps Mayo were attempting to over-egg the pudding by a determined resistance to the notion of attempting kicked passes. Apparently one Mayo observer counted 109 hand passes before he gave up in despair and was carted off to the riddlies. Whatever the case, Dublin were generally able to smother Mayo attacks and were incisive in the counter-attack.

The Dublin management obviously have huge faith in Mark Vaughan and he repaid it with a good display in his first full senior match in the county jersey. All credit to him as well for having overcome a good deal of criticism for some of his recent performances. Vaughan was instrumental in two of the goals where his clever use of his strength won possession. Without doubt he is an asset whose importance will increase in value as his confidence grows and he ignores both the crowd and some of the cruder corner backs he will encounter.

The weekend's matches clarified the situation regarding promotion and relegation ,although from my reading the only counties certain of progressing to the play-offs are Louth in Division 2B of the football, and Kilkenny in 1B, Dublin in 2A and Armagh in 3B of the hurling league. None of the relegation issues in football have been decided yet, although London and Waterford would be relegated if there was any place to send them. Down's brief sojourn in Division 1A of the hurling is at an end and Laois will be leaving 1B.

Antrim will have to wait until next Sunday before their fate is decided. By all accounts they put up a good battle against Kilkenny before going down by two points. They play Limerick in Belfast next week and will be assured of survival if they win, and a draw might even keep them up unless Tipp beat Laois by 17 points. However, if Antrim lose and Tipperary win then the Glensmen will be relegated.

That is not, I hasten to say, that Tipperary being relegated would be a good thing. I don't want dead ancestors wielding ash plants, or worse, calling around to the house. There's a history of that sort of thing. Although they might come in handy if a certain person despatches a crack unit from South Fermanagh in revenge for something or other. Especially if I mention the Baby Guinness.

Looking at matters from the perspective of the health of the game, however, few hurling people would begrudge Antrim another year in the top divisional flight. As I mentioned before, it was a brave decision to opt out of the Championship and they have equited themselves well over all their games so far.

Another year of similar quality would certainly boost Antrim's hoped for return to the big time. Dublin are in a similar position and will be moving in the opposite direction following their fourth consecutive win in 2A and regardless of how they fare next Sunday against Carlow. Winning matches is always a good thing and builds confidence, but no harm to the other teams in the second tier, it will have little bearing on the championship.

Laois are also destined for the drop and no doubt will experience a year similar to Dublin in Division Two. Proof that, whatever about the gap between those few counties with prospects of provincial or All Ireland success and say Dublin, Antrim and Laois, the gap between those three and everyone else is even wider and if anything the chasm is getting worse.

This is not good. As much as Dublin winning the Leinster minor or Ballygalget giving Newtownshandrum a run for their money genuinely cheers hurling folk in the heartlands, it is not enough. Our finest game needs more competition, otherwise it will end up as an annual tournament between the same three or four of the elite. Not that that is any reflection on the elite. It is an elite sport and one that is not excelled at by training a team of human super tankers.

Hurling is our art form. Our ballet. And it needs more Setanta Nijinskys and Rudolf Shevlins if it is to survive. And it needs them to be wearing Derry and Westmeath and Kerry jerseys. Now there is a project worthy of the attention of our incoming President, other than how to make a few bob out of the sporting equivalent of watching paint dry.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1