AFTER becoming the third high-profile manager to resign in the last three months, Damian Fox has warned Laois that they need to take serious stock of their hurling situation if they are to avoid dropping into Christy Ring territory.
Fox quit after efforts to fire up the squad for the All-Ireland qualifier tie against Galway or Antrim failed amid an outbreak of apathy which reached breaking point last Saturday when only three players from a panel of 26 arrived on time for a 2.30 training session in Clonad.
Seven more arrived late and while a few players were injured, half the squad stayed away, offering no explanation for their absence.
“After that it was clear there was no point continuing. We trained last Thursday when 13 fit players turned up.
“Training was called for Saturday afternoon to suit the players but when I saw the response, I knew the game was up,” said Fox.
Fox stresses that at no time had he a falling-out with the players, nor had they sought his resignation.
“There’s a lack of interest among some players in playing for the county. We had a hard core who would do anything to succeed, but I’m afraid it didn’t seem to matter enough to the rest.
“They took the easy option which was to back off from the big challenge. Some of the excuses I got when lads missed training were simply ridiculous,” he said.
Laois lost to Offaly by 18 points in the Leinster quarter-final after which Fox threw down a challenge to the squad to re-double their efforts for the qualifiers.
But it appears that since it was always likely that Laois would be facing Galway many of the players had no interest in taking on one of the All-Ireland favourites.
“Lads knew they didn’t step up to the plate against Offaly. I would have thought that the qualifier game — even if it was against Galway — was the sort of challenge anybody who wears a county jersey would want, but obviously that wasn’t the case here.
“Lots of things have changed in terms of how the players were looked after over the past two years. I made that a top priority when I came in and I’d have to say the County Board delivered. The players were well treated but some of them didn’t give anything back, especially after the Offaly game,” he said.
Training was called 10 days after that defeat but only six players turned up. Six more were either injured or had genuine excuses, three were abroad but the rest made no contact. A total of 17 turned up for a challenge game against Carlow last Tuesday week but it was down to 13 for training two nights later, followed by the pathetic attendance last Saturday.
Several players refused to join the panel in the first place, something which Fox could not understand.
“There were several players who didn’t want to know about the Laois panel. Maybe it’s the big fish in a small pond syndrome; they’re happy to be stars in Laois but don’t want to test themselves outside. The local media don’t help as they have a habit of giving a star billing to lads who haven’t proved themselves outside Laois,” he said
Fox believes that Laois hurling needs a complete overhaul and warns that unless there’s a change of attitude, the senior team is in danger of slipping down to the second tier.
“Pat Critchley and several others are doing lots of great work at juvenile level but it will take time for that to show higher up. Laois minors lost to Meath this year which wouldn’t have happened very often in the past,” Fox added.
Fox follows in the footsteps of John Maughan (Roscommon) and Justin McCarthy (Waterford), who quit in mid-season, and now plans to return to hurling for Tullamore and working on his golf handicap.
“It was four when I took over in Laois but I’ve hardly hit a ball since. I’m leaving Laois knowing I did everything I could to get things right. It’s now up to everybody else I dealt with to ask themselves if they did the same because ultimately the future of Laois hurling is in Laois hands,” he said.
Former Laois star, Niall Rigney will take charge of the team for the qualifier tie on Saturday week.
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