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Monday 5 December 2016

Redressing the balance

Leinster plan to improve the fortunes of weaker counties makes sense

Offaly football goalkeeper, Alan Mulhall. Pic: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Offaly football goalkeeper, Alan Mulhall. Pic: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

On the same day that he publicly predicted the construction of a new stadium in Dublin to service the needs of the counties of North Leinster, Leinster Council chairman, John Horan, also revealed details of an unprecedented move by Leinster Council to improve the fortunes of the province's back markers.

"I must say I was a bit nervous at the beginning as to how people would view this," he admitted.

"In real terms we have the Liam MacCarthy and the Sam Maguire in Leinster but that's only papering over the cracks.

"Do we have a competitive championship in hurling and football?

"We have a problem with Dublin and Kilkenny being so far ahead of everyone else."

In short, the plan - as outlined in the strategic plan for Leinster Council he launched that day in Croke Park - was to put €1,000,000 given to the provincial body by Árd Comhairle into hurling in Carlow, Laois, Antrim, Westmeath and Offaly to "work back to get under-21 structures and minor structures in place.

"We've engaged with Athlone IT, Carlow IT and DCU as colleges that provide sports science benefits for those counties," Horan expanded.

"We hope that the lessons learned from the hurling can be transferred to the football because a lot of it is about organisational structure as much as anything."

"Then," he added, "we hope to transfer that over to our Division Three and Four teams because we have too many of those in the national league in football."

The rationale is simple.

No other Leinster county other than Kilkenny (Galway, not included) has contested an All-Ireland hurling final since Offaly in 2000.

No other Leinster county other than Dublin has played in an All-Ireland football final since Meath in 2001.

Eight of Leinster's 11 competing counties in the Allianz Leagues are in either Division 3 or 4.

That Dublin and Kilkenny are currently thriving merely adds to the ugliness of the comparisons between them and the rest of their neighbours.

"It's going to be very difficult to close the gap, no matter what way you look at it," says Offaly goalkeeper, Alan Mulhall.

His logic has more to do with the size of Dublin's pick, rather than the size of their bank balance.

"Look at the size of the population in Dublin - for every footballer say in Offaly, Longford, Westmeath or wherever that we are trying to get you have to hold onto him.

"In Dublin, if there are two lads with the same ability and if one lad is committed and the other lad is not as committed, he's able to step up and he'll be the one that's held on with the county team."

"I suppose the way you'd be looking at it is Dublin are after being so dominant that it's going to be very difficult to break that

"Just at the minute they look to be a good level ahead of everybody else, it's kind of a competition for second place."

As Horan surmised of the Leinster Council's plan: "This isn't going to be an instant panacea. We're not hitting a light switch."

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