Is the big idea for hurling on death row?

Is the big idea for hurling on death row?

By Martin Breheny



Saturday September 27 2008

What is the ‘big idea’ for hurling?: It’s yet another proposed revamp of the championship which has undergone several changes since the ‘back door’ was first opened in 1997. The latest, which was formulated by the Hurling Development Committee chaired by Kilkenny’s Ned Quinn, involves Galway and Antrim playing in the Leinster Senior Championship.

Other than that, it’s much the same as this year with every county, other than the Leinster and Munster winners, guaranteed a second chance.

Twelve counties would compete for the Liam McCarthy Cup with a tiered structure further down involving the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups. Promotion and relegation would apply between the various tiers.

Why did the HDC propose drafting Galway and Antrim into Leinster?

Two reasons. They wanted to bring Galway and Antrim into a mainstream provincial competition, thereby giving them the same opportunity as everybody else. Also, they felt that adding Galway, in particular, to Leinster would spice up a championship which has lost its appal because of Kilkenny’s dominance (less than 19,000 attended this year’s Kilkenny v Wexford final).

Antrim rightly complained that they got a terrible deal in the last championship carve-up, while Galway managers and players have regularly supported the move to Leinster as a means of advancing their All-Ireland prospects.

Were counties consulted prior to the HDC making its final recommendation?

The GAA says there was widespread consultation, although there are mutterings from some counties that it took the form of briefings rather than outright debate.

Still, the HDC plan appears quite logical, so who’s opposing it?

Dublin, Wexford, Offaly and Westmeath for a start. Lots of counties, including Galway, have yet to state their position, but there appears to be a growing momentum against the proposals.

Why are Dublin, Wexford and Westmeath objecting?

Dublin and Wexford believe that Galway’s arrival would push them down the pecking order in their own province at a time when they’re battling for the No 2 slot behind Kilkenny. Westmeath are unhappy that Antrim are to be accommodated in Leinster, while they won’t even be allowed to compete unless they win the Christy Ring Cup and then beat the lowest team in the Liam McCarthy Cup tier.

What of Galway? Presumably their view is crucial.

Indeed! What of Galway? They will decide their position on Monday night.

Their approach will be vital. Galway Hurling Board secretary, John Fahy, is on the HDC and is pushing hard for acceptance, but there’s serious opposition too. Athenry are driving the anti-campaign, pointing out that it’s not Galway’s responsibility to prop up the ailing Leinster Championship.

They are also questioning why the HDC didn’t come up with a few options rather than present a ‘take it or leave it’ scenario. Athenry want Galway to remain outside Leinster and join the championship at a round robin stage.

Alternatively, they want the Munster and Leinster Championships to play no part in the All-Ireland series. Instead, the 12 counties in the Liam McCarthy Cup tier would be divided into four groups of three and play off on a round robin basis to decide the All-Ireland quarter-finalists.

Will either of those proposals be considered next Saturday?


What are the GAA’s power-brokers saying?

President, Nickey Brennan, and Director-General, Paraic Duffy, are driving the proposals with as much energy as they can muster. Brennan is pleading with counties to accept the deal for a three-year period, followed by a detailed review. He says it’s time for everybody to put their own particular interests to one side for the greater good of hurling.

"Let’s be honest about the Leinster Championship. It hasn’t been performing as it should for a few years and needs a major push. Bringing in Galway and Antrim would give it a fresh impetus. Those who claim that playing in Leinster would do nothing for Galway are missing the point.

"Galway may not get as much satisfaction as Leinster teams from winning the provincial title, but they should see it in terms of helping them to win the the All-Ireland title.

"Galway players and managers have repeatedly said they want to play in Leinster, so surely after several years without winning an All-Ireland senior title, despite producing so much talent, it’s worth a try. Even if they lose in Leinster, they will get a second chance so I can’t see why there’s a reluctance to give it a go for three years.

"Do Galway want a situation to continue where the like of Joe Canning, one of the finest young hurlers we’ve seen for many years, gets no championship action until early July?" said Brennan.

Why is there reluctance in Galway to moving east? Surely playing in Leinster (with the ‘back door’ option if they lose) would boost their All-Ireland prospects as it would put them on the same footing as all the other contenders?

That’s a widely held view in the county, although whether it’s a majority view remains to be seen. Opponents argue Galway shouldn’t be forced into Leinster to form a contrived championship.

They want the system to appreciate and accommodate Galway’s unique position as the only serious hurling force in Connacht. Also, they point to Galway’s disastrous spell in the Munster Championship in the 1960s where they won just one game.

How’s that remotely relevant now?

It’s not. Galway were much weaker back then. However, it’s being used by those who believe there’s something unnatural about Galway competing in Leinster, or indeed, Munster.

Where do the Munster counties stand on the issue?

Since it doesn’t directly impact on them they are weighing up the arguments from both sides.

Could this be divisive for hurling. Surely if some Leinster counties are opposed to Galway’s arrival, others will support them. Also, will counties force Galway into Leinster even if Galway votes to reject the plan?

It’s a very tricky situation. The anti lobby in Galway will be encouraged by the opposition to the proposals in Leinster, pointing out that they are being asked to play in a championship where some of the component constituents resent their arrival.

Where do Kilkenny stand on the issue?

They support it, which is unsurprising since the HDC chairman and GAA President are both from Kilkenny. Besides, Kilkenny couldn’t be seen to oppose anything that would make the Leinster Championship more competitive.

What’s happens if the plan is rejected by Congress?

Presumably, this year’s system will again apply, which would be very unfair on Antrim who are quite happy to play in Leinster. Nickey Brennan has warned that if the plan is rejected there is unlikely to be any more initiatives at central level for some time, leaving it up to counties to come up with new proposals.

So what’s the likely outcome?

The answer rests in how counties not directly involved vote. Also, Galway’s approach will be crucial. If they reject the plan, it’s hard to see how they can be forced into Leinster.

When will it all be decided?

Special Congress gets under way in Croke Park at 10.30 next Saturday morning.

The verdict

Given that scrapping the Leinster and Munster championships and opting for an open draw All-Ireland championship format wouldn’t be accepted, there’s a compelling logic to the HDC plan. Galway’s opposition is difficult to understand since it’s a no-lose situation for them.

Besides, they could always opt out after three years. Galway players and managements have repeatedly pointed out that the current system leaves them at a major disadvantage by comparison with their main rivals in other provinces. This plan offers them equality, albeit in slightly contrived circumstances. As for the Leinster counties who don’t want the Galway cuckoo to arrive in their nest, it’s an understandable sentiment, but the greater good of hurling has to be considered too.

At face value, the HDC plan has much merit, but with opposition growing in various quarters, it needs a major push over the final week if it’s to be passed. Support from Galway would be a significant plus, but rejection would probably spell the end for the latest proposals.

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