Sunday 18 August 2019

Senior backroom should be at the intermediate helm

On The Line

Alan Aherne.
Alan Aherne.

Alan Aherne

I had a quick look at the Leinster Senior hurling final programme when I returned from the Intermediate game in Portlaoise on Wednesday, and it offered confirmation of the right way - indeed the only way in my view - to utilise the secondary grade.

Twenty-two of the 26 Galway players listed to take on Kilkenny had featured in the Senior campaign already, and the other four were all key men against Wexford in a complete mis-match: goalkeeper James Skehill, who played in the 2012 All-Ireland final, plus the entire promising full-forward line of Brian Molloy, Conor Whelan and Shane Maloney.

The Senior manager and coach, Anthony Cunningham and Eugene Cloonan, have joined Under-21 mentor Johnny Kelly on the Intermediate backroom team, and they are using it for development purposes.

When it was pointed out to Limerick Under-21 boss John Kiely before Thursday's win against Tipperary that he only had two Seniors on his squad, he stressed that no fewer than nine of the players had been part of the county Intermediate crew which narrowly lost the Munster final to All-Ireland holders Cork.

There is a clear pattern here, but it's one which the Wexford County Board ignored. To be fair to Liam Dunne, he wanted to take charge of the Intermediates and use the Galway model, but this perfectly reasonable and sensible request wasn't granted.

Delegates who opposed it may well point out that we won a Leinster title with no connection to the Senior backroom last year, but that doesn't justify the decision in my opinion. Dunne was let down in this instance by the officers who ought to have done all in their power and more besides to get the green light for his plan.

Let me stress that this is not a criticism of the Intermediate mentors, as I've been that soldier in another code and I know the difficulties involved in getting a full-strength squad together.

Larry Doyle and his fellow mentors brought Leinster silverware home last year, and it was good to see the Ballygarrett man in the crowd on Wednesday after illness forced him to step down. Seamus Murphy took over with assistance from Robbie Jacob, Denis Nolan, Thos. Ryan and coach Dave Guiney, but surely the penny has dropped and County Board members now realise that change is needed, given the manager's comments before the game.

Something must be seriously wrong when Murphy was still making phone calls 48 hours before the game trying to get players. Contrast that with the Galway situtation: it wasn't a case of asking them to play, they were simply told because they know the Intermediate grade is inextricably linked with the Senior and Under-21 codes.

It should be noted that many Wexford hurlers were proud to answer the call to play in this final, regardless of their age or Senior prospects. We should be thankful to have men of this calibre who regard every chance to don the purple and gold as a singular honour.

And I have every sympathy for the mentors because I was in the very same boat as a Wexford Junior football mentor in 1998 and 1999.

The first campaign was reasonably good, as we beat Laois in a replay in Portlaoise after drawing in Bellefield, before losing to Meath at the second attempt in Navan following another share of the spoils at the Enniscorthy venue.

Year two was short and not very sweet, as we lost first time out to Dublin in Nowlan Park of all places, with the game played as a curtain-raiser to the Senior hurling clash between the same counties.

Then, as now, it was nigh on impossible to get the players we wanted, so we turned to a lot of tried and trusted former Seniors. And, like the Intermediate mentors now, we were criticised by people who seemed to think it was as simple as waving a magic wand and all of these first choices would instantly appear.

That's nearly 20 years ago when the policy of using Junior and Intermediate as a Senior/Under-21 development squad wasn't as widespread. It is now though, but we're one step behind in Wexford and we should correct that without delay.

Many regard Intermediate hurling as a waste of time, when in fact it could be a major stepping stone towards improving our fortunes.

It has worked like a dream so far in football for David Power. Let's extend that to hurling and do the sensible thing for a change.

Wexford People

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