As an organisation GAA caters for hurling, football, rounders and handball, while camogie and ladies football operate under their own separate identities. Change and reform and two words being brandished in conjunction with each other at an alarming rate. Proposals are being put forward but one thing that stands out is that all of the proposals are geared towards football. Are people forgetting about hurling?
This piece is simply raising the point that hurling reform has received little or no mention in the midst of these talks. It may be the case that people are happy with the hurling championship at the moment and see no need for any alterations. Or people might also take the slow changing nature of the GAA account and realise that one thing at most can only ever change at any one time, leading to an approach of ‘lets start with football, then move onto the hurling’.
The flaws of the football championship are easily transferable to hurling. Unless a team is in the provisional round robin series of the Leinster championship, any county is only guaranteed two games. The gaps between games are very long. The Munster hurling championship takes eight weeks to play four games. The Leinster championship is condensed more efficiently but also basically entails two separate competitions in one.
Another thing that hurling has adopted is the tiered system that has caused so much indifference of opinion in football discussions. The margins may be drifting further away in hurling but achievements have been put in perspective for a lot of the lesser counties. The Christy Ring, Lory Meaghar and Nicky Rackard Cups provide opportunities for the weaker hurling counties to get to Croke Park, to play competitively against teams of a similar standard.
Whether someone agrees on it or not, at least there was a reform of the hurling championship. It changed and something was tried, yet football continues to resist change for a number of reasons. Does hurling need change and is it being neglected? With the extra number of teams, change is easier to implement in football, but that does not mean that adjustments cannot be made to hurling.
The current state of hurling has really been questioned in the last two years. The 2015 championship was very poor apart from one All-Ireland semi-final between Tipperary and Galway while the 2016 campaign was equally as bad until the semi-final stages finally saw four teams play out some exhilarating encounters.
Does two poor years automatically entail that change is needed, or have people simply been overreacting? One point that should be made on hurling is the complete overindulgence in the game by many people. ‘The greatest game in the world’ is a term that is used far too loosely. Hurling is a great game but there are blind folds on people at times when preaching about its ‘greatness’.
The most alarming thing in hurling has been the decline of the provincial championships. The Munster Hurling Championship has dropped significantly in the last five years or so. What was once a truly great championship has lessened in value and quality in recent times.
An interesting stat from the last 10 years of the Munster championship is that only three Munster champions have gone on to play in the All-Ireland final of that year. The long lay-off between the Munster final and the All-Ireland semi-final has been seen as a potential disadvantage. This has lead to teams taking Munster less seriously and a sharp decline has occurred as a result.
Leinster has added Galway and Antrim to its provincial championship since 2009. Galway have competed better since, but the fact that they are being prevented from competing in Leinster at minor and under-21 level will hinder further progress. Dublin have improved, Kilkenny are Kilkenny, Wexford have enjoyed the qualifiers. There have been some good Leinster championship games, but it has not been overly captivating outside of a handful of games.
Similar to football, the provinces have run their course and are diminishing. The hurling competitions are the wrong way around. The league offers two groups of six. Each teams plays five matches either at home or away. Scrap the provinces, make it an open draw with the top 12 teams. Allow Waterford to play in Walsh Park, allow Clare to play in Cusack Park, pack out the stadiums and build some great occasions as well as great matches.
We have seen straight out how tight the league can get. If this could be replicated during the summer, then how could it not be a positive for everyone. The league involves a minimum six games in eight weeks, while the summer championship can see a team play four games in thirteen weeks. The first option there is a far better alternative for everybody.
Hurling needs more games. While league formats have their critics it has to be worth a try. If provinces are being insisted on, then play both on a round-robin series. Give all teams games against each other and then really reward the best teams over a consistent period of time. It would be better for players, supporters, county boards and everyone involved.
A few years ago, Martin McHugh said not to forget about football around the time of Congress. Now it is time to say, don’t forget about hurling!