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Hurling's Next Revolution: The Injection Of New Blood The Championship Needed

Hurling's Next Revolution: The Injection Of New Blood The Championship Needed
By Maurice Brosnan
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In the early summer of both 2012 and 2018, Wexford and Offaly met at O’Connor Park in the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship. Six years ago, Offaly won, as expected, 2-12 to 1-13. Last Saturday Wexford dished out a 24-point hammering in what was no more than a challenge game for the Leinster title contenders.

The return of Wexford as a heavyweight of hurling is a much-welcomed one. Under the stewardship of Davy Fitzgerald, they will face defending All-Ireland champions Galway in Wexford Park with their 100% Championship win record intact after back-to-back victories thus far.

The 21st Century's hurling championship roll of honour is not diverse. The Liam MacCarthy Cup has been reserved for a select few teams; Kilkenny won eight of ten hurling All-Irelands between 2006 and 2015. Since 2000 there have been just five different winners, two of whom only won it once. But that monopoly is dissolving and suddenly it has become a very different landscape capable of producing as many as eight different winners.

As Wexford man Willie Cleary outlines, now is an exhilarating time to be involved in the emerging county's development.

It is a fantastic time to be involved. It is great to see the crowds, 17,000 at a league game in Wexford Park is fantastic. Take a snapshot at half-time of a Wexford game - it’ll tell you more than watching the Seniors. Over 1,000 kids on the pitch with hurls and their sliotars or tennis ball.

We hit a low and went down in the early 2000s but that’s when the work started. They didn’t have heroes then. They do now: Lee Chin, Paudie Foley, Rory O’Connor, Conor McDonald. These are household names in Wexford. Kids want their autograph. To see them after a game, they are mobbed. Five, six years ago there were players under Liam Dunne who could walk off the pitch and lads wouldn’t know their name.

A primary school teacher by trade, Cleary saw the lack of development at this crucial age and decided to do something about it. He now oversees a programme called Hurling 365, which facilitates weekly coaching to all primary school children in Wexford. It’s a role he has taken up full time under Wexford GAA after taking a career break last September.


We plan out and encourage all the clubs to build a link with the primary schools. We organise it so that they get in and coach throughout the year. The major focus is your kids from senior infants to third or fourth class. They aren’t playing Cumann na mBunscol. Hurling is such a hard skill to learn. It takes so much. We are trying to give them the best start.

Cleary created a player pathway to guide coaches towards game-based training and the best methods of development. At the core of the process is endeavouring to make it fun and enjoyable. As current Wexford star Jack O’Connor said, this is a crucial aspect. “Our primary schools are a key resource in our youth development. You have all the kids in the parish together five days a week with their club and can foster a love of hurling. I remember St. Martins came to my national school when I was there. We’d all love it and we’d rush home to set up matches that felt like an All-Ireland."

Now he’s competing for one.


Cleary stresses one vital fact about the revival of Wexford hurling; it was a collective effort. While plaudits were forthcoming for Davy Fitzgerald after he took them to their first Leinster final since 2008 last year there is no doubt that this was the fruit of grassroots work: "We have a very young coaching staff at the minute. There is a lot of new ideas and modern ways of doing it."

We have a county board that are fully supported and involved in our thinking, but we don’t want quick fixes. Look, it is fantastic, the work Davy is doing with the lads now, but that is a two to five-year job. You can’t just pick up a team and make it brilliant. Yes, he has done a fantastic job, but it started ten years before that to work on the ground and produce players. We are not fully there, we are not producing players every year, but we are getting there. We’re on the right track.

Wexford’s last All-Ireland title came in 1996 when they beat Limerick 1-13 to 0-14. Wexford have not appeared on that stage since then while Limerick have been limited to just one showing, a seven-point loss to Kilkenny in 2007. Now both are undefeated in the Championship, having made it to League semi-finals, and are both likely to progress as a top three side in their respective provinces.


Like Wexford, Limerick are benefitting from a hurling academy system that has produced a wide arsenal of talent currently at John Kiely’s disposal. In 2013 and 2014 they collected Munster minor medals. 2015 and 2017 saw similar accolades at U21. Throw in the two All-Ireland U21 titles in three years and this season’s early success starts to make sense.

If one decides to delve deeper, a trend begins to emerge. Árdscoil Rís have appeared in three of the last eight post-primary school Dr. Croke Cup finals, while the last four Fitzgibbon Cup winners have been Limerick colleges. At club level, recent All-Ireland finalists Na Piarsaigh have won three of the last five Munster titles.

What both counties stress is the development and schooling of young hurlers rather than a ‘win at all costs’ mentality. Hurling is supposed to be fun, and the structures emphasise that.


Limerick are looking to marry the pair now. A crowd of 20,403 where left thrilled after their first game of the Championship after Tipperary travelled to the Gaelic Grounds and were sent packing with a six-point loss.

With hurling cultures firmly re-established in Limerick and Wexford, 2018 is one of huge promise. This weekend is a colossal opportunity to consolidate that, as they take on provincial champions Cork and Galway respectively. With the structures clearly established, it won't be too long until senior success soon follows.

Sky Sport's exclusive live coverage gets underway this Saturday.

Kicking off the GAA Senior Hurling Championships is a mouth-watering double-header, featuring four teams who are undefeated in this year's Championship.


Wexford will host 2017 All-Ireland Champions Galway at Wexford Park in a repeat of last year's Leinster Final. Coverage begins from 4pm on Sky Sports.

Then from 6.45pm, Limerick will travel to Páirc Ui Chaoimh to take on old rivals Cork in Round 3 of the Munster Senior Hurling Championship.

For the latest online news go to www.skysports.com/gaa


Follow Sky Sports GAA on Twitter @SkySportsGAA or on Sky Sports Facebook

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