Sunday 20 October 2019

Survey of hurling in schools would be well worth repeating

Alan Aherne
Alan Aherne

On the Line with Alan Aherne

Being an avid collector - some would say a hoarder - of sporting material has its advantages at times.

I was looking for something completely different last week when I came across the 'Wexford Schools Hurling Survey', carried out in mid-1995 and published in May of the following year by the G.A.A. Supporters' Club in conjunction with the hurling coaching committee.

I referred briefly to the document in this column in late August, a few days before the 20th anniversary of our last All-Ireland Senior hurling championship success.

Just to re-cap, the excellently-produced 36-page survey contained the raw material from which our hurling problems had the potential to be tackled.

However, we all know what happened next. Just four months later our Seniors completed a summer when they had surprised all and sundry by collecting the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the first time in 28 years.

All of a sudden nobody was worried about surveys or perceived hurling problems. We were living in a perfect world once more for the first time since 1968, or so we thought, and to the best of my recollection this document more or less ended up gathering dust on the shelf which was a real shame.

As if the Senior win wasn't enough to allay fears, the team went on to retain the Leinster crown in 1997. The Under-21 crew did likewise, while the Under-14s hammered Galway to claim the Tony Forristal All-Ireland title for the first time.

All of this filled our hearts with joy of course, and it was wonderful to live through it. If there was a down side though, it was that this survey didn't get the full attention it deserved.

Twenty years down the line, it's fascinating to look back at the statistics which were diligently collated by the late Tom Williams.

The students of all 15 secondary schools in the county in 1995 (F.C.J. and Bunclody V.S. were treated as one unit for the purposes of the survey) filled out questionnaires, with 3,185 returned in total.

At the time, 48% in total played hurling, ranging from the table-topping Good Counsel with 72% all the way down to my alma mater, Wexford C.B.S., on 31%.

There was a noticeable drop in those playing from first year to sixth year, 58% right down to 39%. No fewer than 1,246 (39%) played the game in primary school but discontinued once they entered second level education.

Soccer was the most popular sport with 34%, followed by hurling on 23% and Gaelic football (13%).

Of the top 25 sportspersons selected, no fewer than 17 were soccer players or personalities, with five hurlers plus basketballer Michael Jordan, boxer Mike Tyson, and Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher.

The top three were Eric Cantona with 252 votes, D.J. Carey with 179, and Martin Storey with 131. The other three hurlers to make the list were Liam Dunne (58), George O'Connor (17), and our own Tom Dempsey who just about scraped in joint 25th with no less a man than Jack Charlton on 12! I believe the rumours at the time that Tom stood outside St. Peter's College offering bribes to students to give him a mention were wildly exaggerated!

To be honest, there wasn't much interest in his autographed photographs in 1995 anyway even though he still had his hair....sure, wasn't the survey carried out over a year before he got that goal against Limerick when everyone wanted to be his friend?!

That's enough of the joking though. To end on a serious note, it would be a fascinating exercise, in my view, to conduct this survey once again over the winter months, using the same methods and asking the exact same questions.

It should be somewhat easier this time around given the template is there to follow from 1996 while, on a practical level, there is an improved presence of G.A.A. coaching personnel in our secondary schools nowadays which would help to complete the project.

To be fair, that was one of the positives to emerge, albeit slowly, after the survey was published. I'd love to compare and contrast answers from 1995 and 2016 though, as the hard facts would be very interesting. Maybe somebody will take this suggestion on board?

Wexford People

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