Westside column – December 17th 2011

The leftovers of the championship year continue to be played out as Christmas approaches. Templederry on Sunday hosted the first of the U21 semi-finals where Burgess and Clonoulty braved the conditions to produce a knife-edged affair with the North champions holding out for a minimal win. The second semi should see Loughmore and Ballingarry in action next weekend.

Elsewhere convention season is in full swing where I’m sure there’ll be passing reference made to the relegation affair, a saga which took its latest twist during the week when Ballybacon felt unable to face Cashel K.C. in their re-fixed tie.
We’ve become accustomed to the U21s slogging it out in the mud and mire of winter and by now seem to have accepted what should be entirely unacceptable. Criticise the late staging of this competition nowadays and inevitably you’ll get the fatalistic line that it’s entirely unavoidable given the nature of the grade. Nonsense! Where there’s a will etc. etc. We can play off our senior and several other grades in double-quick time just to meet Munster deadlines but somehow U21 seems to be out of the loop when priorities are being selected.

This county U21 title has proven elusive for Clonoulty in the past and that blemish on their record remains for another season at least. I suspect they’ll regret this one just as much as any from the past. A one-point defeat is painful because you can isolate so many incidents where the gap might have been bridged.
The West champs were four-down at the break. It had been a fascinating first half. Burgess had the moderate wind advantage but it was their slimly-built centre forward, Stephen Murray, who stole the show in that spell with a superlative display of skill. He rifled over seven points, three from play, in as crisp a display of striking as you’re likely to see on any hurling field. Distance was no problem – he landed one free from deep inside his own half – and some of the scores from play were Shefflin-esque.
Clonoulty could be grateful for a ten-minute burst from John O’Neill at the other end to keep them in the hunt. He stole in behind the defence for the game’s only goal midway through the opening half and then followed with three points from play to take Clonoulty one-up about eight minutes from the interval. It was to be the peak point from the West men. Significantly Burgess hit the final five points of the half to build a buffer that ultimately would prove too much for Clonoulty.

An early surge in the second half from Clonoulty was promising; Paul Hayes and Aidan White hit the target. However, by the three quarter stage Stephen Murray had the lead back at four once again. A few missed chances by Clonoulty at this juncture would ultimately prove very costly. Gradually they pared back the lead, however, Conor Hammersley hitting three on the trot from play, a free and a ‘65’. There was just one in it with five minutes to go but then came another Murray free from out near the sideline to extend the cushion back to two. Burgess wouldn’t score from play in the second half. A few fleeting Clonoulty chances of goal were smothered by the North defence and the game was in added time when Martin Sadlier brought it back to a one-point affair. Eventually time ran out on the West and Burgess were through.

Clonoulty had some harsh words for the referee at the end feeling hard done by in a host of marginal calls on a day when small things decided the outcome. They had a case too, though as a balancing point they were very fortunate to be left with fifteen men following a dangerous pull by a defender in the first half.

It’s a frustrating one for Clonoulty who are enjoying this era of dominance in the West but somehow seem unable to land those precious county titles. They’ve never won the county U21 and their last minor success was in 1996 when ‘Bonny’ Kennedy was captain. Injuries have been unkind to them this year; the ongoing absence of Tom Butler is a heavy blow. Still with close to half of their senior side available, and given the experience of having played in that county final against Drom, you’d expect more from this particular outfit.

Against that you have to credit Burgess with a gutsy display. They certainly chased the game more hungrily than Clonoulty, got on to the breaks more often and took whatever good luck came their way. Their only sampling of county success in this grade was in combination with Kildangan back in 1970 and 1971 when they put titles back-to-back under the Naomh Padraig banner. Given their North win over Nenagh, county minor winners of three years ago, they deserved respect and now remain as the North division’s sole chance of taking a major hurling title this year. Loughmore and Ballingarry, I’m sure, will have other ideas.

Ah yes, that relegation business continues to rumble on and on, going nowhere – a bit like a stuck record. The game was fixed for last weekend but to no one’s surprise Ballybacon informed the board that they there were unable to field. They’ll have neutral sympathy too, seen very much as the victims in this mess. Whither to now, one wonders, with options running out and the day fast approaching when the Board will finally have to make a decision.
I’ve been reading about another relegation rumpus up in wee Louth, one where the county authorities were over-ruled by the provincial body somewhat similar to the Cashel case. The origins of the Louth situation, though, are quite different. It’s the story of a ‘seven-minute’ match, one that ultimately didn’t take place.

Two Louth clubs, Naomh Fionbarra and Oliver Plunkett’s, played an intermediate football relegation final some while back. The game was played under lights and with seven minutes to go Plunkett’s were four points down and a man down following a sending off. Then the lights went out and Plunkett’s promptly high-tailed it out of Clogherhead where the match was being staged. By the time the lights were fixed there was no Plunkett’s team to resume the match.

The Louth CCC subsequently awarded the game to Naomh Fionbarra and suspended fourteen of the Plunkett’s players. Ironically the fellow sent off escaped the ban. On appeal, however, the county’s Hearings Committee decided to lift the suspensions and ordered that the remaining seven minutes of the game be played. It gets dafter and dafter. Plunkett’s then went to the Leinster Council and the provincial body sent the matter back to the Hearings Committee with an instruction that they can’t play a seven-minute match. So it remains to be seen if a full re-fixture is ordered or if a compromise would allow both teams to remain in the intermediate grade.

Sounds familiar? What amazes me with the Cashel situation is that privately most people concede that there’s unlikely to be any game or relegation this year but yet officially nobody seems willing or capable of grasping that particular nettle. Ignore it and it might go away, like, seems to be the attitude.

Look, the original game was played on September 25, so asking clubs now almost three months later to play out this thing at Christmas, is absurd. Relegation is far too important an issue for a club to be decided in such circumstances. And do we have to remind the Board once again that they carry a lot of blame for this mess. It’s inadvisable to deliver sermons from the high moral mountain when your own house is far from blameless.

The solution here is simple: drop relegation for 2011. What’s the big deal in any case, weren’t we without relegation for several years and the world didn’t end? It seems to me that this relegation issue is such a pet project with some that there’s a reluctance to countenance the easiest way out of this tangle. Of course dropping the dreaded R for one year might not be ideal but that’s the price to be paid for the bungling of this case over the past three months.

The possibility of relegating two teams next year, as a compromise, has been mooted – I think I may even have thrown that option into the mix myself at some stage. It’s one way perhaps to appease those ultra-keen on relegating teams, though, I suspect, other clubs might baulk at the suggestion. Teams in danger are unlikely to relish the prospect of two taking the drop next year.

There’s been an additional option floated of having two teams relegated in 2012 but one of them to come from the Cashel-Ballybacon-Borrisokane triangle. I’ve no doubt the three clubs will vehemently oppose such a move and in fairness they’d have a strong case. 2012 will be a brand new season and if they do well why should they be in a relegation battle. Anyway at this stage I’m tired of this issue so will somebody please face reality and move on, wounded, perhaps, but wiser for the experience.

Finally county convention is set for next Monday night. This annual gathering used to fill a Sunday and part of the logic of moving to a Monday night is that delegates are less likely to drag things out at an evening session – especially a Monday evening. In a subtle way it’s an admission that the old conventions were painful affairs. O God, I cringe to even think of those AGMs when fellows went on and on waffling about nothing. The only problem now with the Monday night fixture is that it’s totally inconvenient for writing this column so I’ve given up on the annual gathering.
The county will have a new chairman when Sean Nugent takes over the baton from fellow-Southerner, Barry O’Brien. There was a time when the South couldn’t get a chairman elected before Con Hogan broke the mould and here they are now with successive men taking the top post. Barry O’Brien leaves after a term which had unforgettable highlights in the 2010 All Ireland senior hurling win and this year’s minor football success. Coming from a football region I’m sure the latter gave particular pleasure. He has predicted that we’ll win a senior football All Ireland by 2020. Indeed.

It’s expected that there will be an election for the position of vice-chairman (I refuse to use the PC term chairperson) of the Board. Michael Bourke, Upperchurch, and Michael McCormack, Fethard, look set to slug it out for a position that will put the winner in line for the top job in three years time. I’m told there might be a ballot for development officer also.

Just six motions are listed on the agenda – quite a change from the past when pages of proposals would bore you to death. Looks like delegates will get away early enough on Monday night. County secretary, Tim Floyd, has a very comprehensive report before convention with some thought-provoking ideas on various issues. Might even provoke me to comment next week.

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