With the GAA season in full swing, most observers are engrossed in the action on the field. With the likes of Wexford, Galway and Cork lighting up the championship, 2017 is shaping up to be a memorable race for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
However, never far away from people’s lips is the discussion over championship restructure. After Congress introduced the ‘Super 8’s’ into the football championship, it was felt that the hurling championship needed to be updated. The current proposal will see a round-robin system introduced with the five Munster counties (excluding Kerry) in one group, the top five Leinster teams in another group (Kilkenny, Wexford, Dublin, Galway and Offaly) and the rest of the tier one counties in a seperate group.
The winners of the third group will secure promotion to their provincial championship the following year, but this aspect has come under criticism.
Former Offaly and current Laois manager Eamonn Kelly is particularly upset with the proposed re-structure:
“What’s proposed for next year is absolutely off the wall. How do I say, ‘Hey lads, we’re going to put in a huge effort and we’re going to play in a qualifier system where there’s no trophy for us, no nothing, other than it puts you in something for the following year’.
“I’d have a strong thought on it having been involved with Kerry and Offaly, the top ten are gone a little bit ahead so let the top ten be grouped together and put in another championship beside it and give it the exposure that it deserves and play it the same day as the All-Ireland final.
“I see what the likes of Kerry put into it and even Meath aren’t in that proposal which beggars belief. They’re all finished hurling in May when the best hurling in the best weather is ready be played.”
However, Galway boss Micheal Donoghue is in favour of the proposals. With the Tribesmen not playing many games at under-age level (they get straight to an All-Ireland quarter-final at minor, giving them a maximum of three games), it is easy to see where Donoghue is coming from in favouring this.
“Yeah, I think it’s very proactive,”
“From the senior perspective it’s going to be good to get some home games if it goes through and obviously the under-21s in Leinster as well, I think for the last couple of years they have probably been neglected as well.
“In an ideal world, if we could get both minor and under-21 teams into Leinster and get competitive games for all the teams that’d be great, but it’s a hugely positive step for us.”
There are a few other issues that have to be ironed out. Meath, relegated from the MacCarthy Cup this year were excluded from the proposal. Also, if the Christy Ring Cup winners don’t get to play in their provincial championship, do they get the full reward of winning the second tier competition?
There is also the concern that this proposal will dilute the championship. With over 30,000 in Thurles last Sunday for Cork v Waterford, you had a great occasion to go with the match. Will every county being guarenteed four games dwindle attendances? It is hard to see how it wouldn’t given that few National League games attract over 10,000 supporters.
The debate is sure to rage on ahead of September’s Special Congress where the proposals will be debated and voted on.
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena