Former Hurling Development Committee (HDC) chairman Tommy Lanigan says the opportunity Special Congress delegates have today to change the senior championship structure might not come around for another 20 years.
Lanigan will be disappointed if the status quo is retained, while Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald says hurling people are “crying out” for more championship games.
Today’s gathering has been called largely in reaction to concerns among the hurling fraternity to Gaelic football’s Super 8 next season, which will add eight more championship games and poses the potential problem of 19 football matches taking place in July in contrast to five in hurling.
However, long before the Super 8, HDC chief Lanigan five years ago put forward a model similar to the provincial round-robin championship proposed by Central Council and the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC). His group also recommended a development group of five teams with the winners going into the All-Ireland quarter-finals but the entire blueprint was shot down by the CCCC at the time.
While he feels the lack of a development arm in the provincial round-robin motion is “harsh”, he “seriously hopes” it is backed by delegates in Croke Park. “Most people would say hurling is in a good place. It’s never been more skilful, there have never been more playing the game but that shouldn’t be enough.
“We’ve had the backdoor since 1997. The game has moved on since and the way in which games are promoted has certainly moved on. Counties are not getting the benefit of what they’ve put into stadia. The backdoor has suited the really strong counties whereas the two fives balances things a bit better.
“The issue could be buried for another 20 years and that would be tragic because we should always be looking at our structures.”
Lanigan’s HDC didn’t devise a new championship with football in mind. “We were never thinking about what might happen in football but what has happened has accelerated this. We were looking at things for the good and the development of the game. We wanted to deal with this mad ratio of training to games. We seem to be a sports organisation that is obsessed with training more than games and any improvements to deal with that have to happen.
“We also have fabulous infrastructure in terms of stadia. What are they being built for? They should be there to help showcase players. I’ve heard people talk about running a high-powered league and going back to a knockout championship but that doesn’t happen in any sport. The knockout element in most sports happens after an elongated, sophisticated league structure. We were trying to reflect that too.” The other motions, such as Cork’s Super 8 and Tipp’s losers groups, Lanigan sees as diluting the main proposal. “I see the Kilkenny attitude is wait-and-see but why not try it for three years and then see but don’t start arguing on the basis of one good year of hurling.”
Lanigan flatly dismisses Cork’s proposal as “elitist” — “You are making it elitist. I’d be a serious football fan and I’m not a fan of the Super 8 because it is making it quite elitist. Hurling needs to keep as many teams as possible at the top as does football. The history of hurling over the last 50 years have illustrated very clearly counties can come and go but counties should have the opportunity to come. I remember what Galway were like in the late 60s and early 70s when John Connolly was nearly playing on his own.”
Of the motions put forward, Wexford boss Fitzgerald has no real preference but is keen on the idea of counties being guaranteed more than two SHC matches, as is currently. “People want to see more games — they’re crying out for them. From a financial point of view, more games would help the county boards. I just want to see more games once it doesn’t affect the clubs.
“You just have to be smart with the calendar. Going on what I’ve seen, there are weekends when you can have more championship games when it has no impact on the clubs.
“The current structure is okay but it can be improved. It’s about educating the clubs that if there are going to be more games, that they are assured it won’t affect them. It might mean playing two or three weeks in a row and if that’s the case then fine — clubs have to do that as well.”
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