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Eddie the unlikely Evangelist...
Hurling

Eddie the unlikely Evangelist for hurling's lost causes

Over the course of the last eight months, I've become well acquainted with the postman.

For a few minutes every other morning through the living room window, we chat as he delivers another book, bag of artisan coffee or whatever other impulse purchase I've made that scarcely does justice to his essential status.

"They messed up big time with Eddie Brennan," preceded any need for a usual greeting earlier this week. We spoke a little longer than usual.

If you know, you know.

Ultimately, the unfortunate Laois manager divulged harsh truths in what he assumed was a safe space. His words may sting those targeted, but they resonated, nevertheless. Albeit unwittingly, the serial All-Ireland winner from Kilkenny became a voice for undervalued hurling set-ups across the country.

"Every county board the same so it seems," came the knowing reply of one county player with no experience of Laois hurling, but a familiarity with their plight.

Indeed, as myself and the postman talked (I'm not so conceited as to not know his name, but it isn't my business to share it), I couldn't but draw things back to the situation in Sligo hurling.

Sligo 22 June 2019; Sligo players celebrate after the Nicky Rackard Cup Final. Photo by Sportsfile

After two years and back-to-back promotions, this was to be the year where Daithí Hand and his team had a go at the Christy Ring Cup for the very first time.

That team is overseen by Pádraig Mannion now after - for reasons you can learn more about on OTB Sports - a falling-out with the Sligo County Board brought about Hand's premature end.

There was no publicised comment or complaint from the Monaghan native.

He was gradually undone, incessantly scrambling until he could no longer justify why Sligo hurling should be taken seriously by people in Sligo, never mind anybody else.

With a figurative whisper, it wasn't surprising then that the county's most successful hurling manager departed his role earlier this year to an underwhelming three-line statement on Sligo GAA's website.

Indifference that may surprise even Eddie Brennan, news of Hand's departure didn't warrant mention from the County Board's official Twitter or Facebook accounts.

*****

On Thursday morning then as news of Paul Taylor's surprising exit emerged, I was curious to see how Sligo's departing senior football manager would be treated.

After a winless 2019, this year had been a bit kinder to Sligo football. Successive defeats of London and Antrim even left promotion from Division 4 looking feasible at one point.

As these things go, a five-point loss to Wicklow followed. What optimism remained went the same way as their promotion hopes when Waterford then rocked up to Markeivicz Park next and left with two points.

Nevertheless, Sligo's County Board lamented the loss of a "through and through" Sligo man who, it was felt important to include, had "given so much to the black and white jersey over the years."

What's more, Taylor was allowed space for a personal statement of his own to thank who needed thanking and once more state his great disappointment that last weekend's clash with Galway had been forfeited.

An unquestionably talented footballer, that this facet of Taylor's legacy was given prominence in a statement of his resignation as manager reveals a thing or two about how things have gone for Sligo in recent years.

Sligo 24 October 2020; Sligo manager Paul Taylor. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Across 16 games in the league and championship, Paul Taylor's Sligo won three and lost 13. To compare this with Hand's record from 2018 to the beginning of this year, the hurlers won 17 of the 22 games he oversaw.

Of Hand's four defeats, three came in his first year while the fourth - a league final defeat to Leitrim in '19 - was avenged a few weeks ago; albeit with Mannion now at the helm. The outstanding draw had been against Mayo in a Nicky Rackard group stage game and it secured Sligo's progression to a semi-final.

Looking ahead to this year's Christy Ring Cup, Hand unashamedly talked of Sligo one day soon reaching the Joe McDonagh Cup. In wilder moments, he allowed himself to contemplate what a run through the Leinster championship might be like.

At a foundational level, however, he and his management team had worked tirelessly to graft the strands of Sligo's hurling community together for a common cause. It was already reaping dividends as their relationship with the County Board deteriorated.

Success unlike any achieved by a Sligo hurling outfit, it read like an afterthought.

*****

Perhaps if mine was the last stop on the postman's route I would have had time to convey all of this to him. Instead, we briefly queried Brennan's future with Laois and he went on his way.

It is undoubtedly easy - and enjoyable, really - to read one's own grievances into scenarios and actions that may not have a great deal to do with them.

Realistically, the treatment of Taylor's departure - he even got a Tweet - was fitting. Although he will wish his time with Sligo delivered more favourable results, the respect extended to him by the County Board shouldn't be dependent on how they treated his former hurling counterpart.

It is not he who should be held accountable for the mistreatment of Daithí Hand and his team.

As personnel from smaller hurling set-ups across the country received WhatsApp messages with the Laois manager's off-the-record words earlier this week, one wonders how they are now feeling.

If a County Board ultimately believes that a modern icon of the sport like Eddie Brennan can be fobbed off with silly excuses, what hope have the rest of them got?

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Read more about

Daithí Hand GAA Gaelic Football Hurling Paul Taylor Peter Galvin Sligo

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