The original hurling model still the best

Proposals for home and away championship matches could solve Galway’s difficult Leinster situation, says John Fogarty.
The original hurling model still the best

Phew. For a second there, we thought the best solution for the All-Ireland senior hurling championship was going to be jettisoned again.

When GAA president Aogán Farrell mentioned a model which would provide “more games at the end stages but in a tighter period” it seemed the best option was off the table.

Yet on Sunday Farrell clarified that wasn’t the case – a model based on that which was forwarded by former hurling development committee chairman Tommy Lanigan and GAA director of games development Pat Daly in 2012 is being strongly favoured to be backed by Central Council next month and endorsed by Special Congress in October.

“It would start on a round robin, keeping the Leinster championship and the Munster championship,” he said. “We will need to have home games and away games for all counties.”

Thank goodness for that because the alternatives have more drawbacks. Replicating football’s Super 8 in hurling would have increased matches by 10 but then it would have lacked imagination and when only six teams are deemed good enough to play in the league’s top flight it wouldn’t have looked right.

Also, if it was based on the current backdoor model might teams who had lost a provincial first round or semi-final needed to only win one qualifier game to make the last eight?

A Super Six comprising those teams remaining after the provincial finals and qualifiers would have had a better appearance than a Super Eight but then it would only have been a tweak to what is there now and an additional four games would hardly dent the extra 14 football will have over hurling going into next July and August.

The possibility of an All-Ireland series league might also have been mentioned but it would have taken up a lot of weekends and brought to a halt several counties’ club fixtures at the peak of the summer.

No, what is being backed now, in principle, makes most sense. Lanigan and Daly’s idea was rejected by Central Council on the advice of the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) in 2012 but now a different CCCC sees the merit in increasing the number of matches in the provinces.

That it had the backing of current HDC chairman Paudie O’Neill, whose Celtic Challenge plan with Daly is working well, was significant.

Even if it is perceived as reactionary to the football changes and will do well to convince many in hurling counties their game is any more than an after-thought, the structure should be welcomed. More championship matches won’t hinder clubs if, as is expected, they are played in a tight, dependable schedule.

The home and away arrangements would also address the Galway situation and provide the likes of Clare with much-envied home matches.

There are a few snags, most notably that the new proposal could jettison the entitlements of a development group.

In the 2012 structure, the top two teams in that “improving” five-team league would qualify for preliminary quarter-finals against the third-placed teams in Munster and Leinster.

They would then face the provincial runners-up in the quarter-finals proper. However, there is a reward for only the development table-toppers in the reported system and that’s a place in the Leinster championship.

That isn’t as fair as the Lanigan-Daly plan. The five teams in their development group, most of whom comprise the current Leinster qualifying division, would feel more a part of the Liam MacCarthy Cup than they do now.

In essence, what is being forwarded now is not all that different to what is there - only one team rather than the two this coming weekend make the Leinster quarter-finals.

Apparently, one of the five teams already qualified to play in Leinster this summer but more than likely one of Dublin, Galway, Offaly and Wexford will have to earn their way as part of that development group.

The GAA face a difficult means of demoting a county that way and perhaps needlessly too as the Lanigan-Daly blueprint had no such quandaries.

It is also reported that the two All-Ireland quarter-finals would feature the provincial runners-up and the third best teams in the Munster and Leinster groups.

There’s an incentive issue there especially when those counties who have performed poorer are coming up against those who are coming off the back of a dispiriting provincial final defeat. Again, the original structure encountered no such anomalies.

Aside from the home-away arrangements and guaranteeing more championship hurling, the most appealing factor of the 2012 system was the intention to incorporate more counties into the Liam MacCarthy Cup without impacting on the competitiveness of it.

If the GAA find the wrinkles in their championship structure too difficult to iron out, it would be advisable to adopt what was originally tabled – a most exciting and equitable competition.

Hurling is elitist by nature but it shouldn’t be by design.

Days of RTÉ’s football big three numbered?

In 2015, it was RTÉ’s rugby panel that broke up when George Hook and Tom McGurk retired.

Johnny Giles left the soccer panel last year after the national broadcasters chose to cut him from their pool of analysts.

GAA’s big three of Joe Brolly, Colm O’Rourke and Pat Spillane are still on the Montrose books, but for how long is the question.

As box office as his punditry may be, Brolly, 48 next month, has sailed too close to the wind in recent times — the Rachel Wyse comment in 2014 and the Marty Morrisey one in 2015 — and there isn’t as much sympathy for him in RTÉ as there once was.

O’Rourke, 60 in August, would be regarded as the safest pair of hands of all three, but then Giles would have been deemed likewise compared to Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy.

Spillane, 62 in December, and the longest standing analyst of the trio, may be a tad worried that the Kerry contingent has now jumped to three from two in the past few years.

Next year’s Super 8 means RTÉ are likely to broadcast more live games, meaning good news for its punditry stable but there are indications Ciarán Whelan and Tomás Ó Sé are moving in on the senior analyst positions.

It’s not as if any of Brolly, O’Rourke or Spillane have become irrelevant but youth is definitely the policy in Donnybrook these days.

Might this be the year that the station’s top football combination going back to the 2000s is broken up or given a farewell?

It might suit Mayo to be disdained 

Colm Cooper thinks it’s a do-or-die season for them. Ciarán Whelan says they remind him of the Dublin team which he featured on (that never won an All-Ireland).

Tomás Ó Sé reckons they don’t have the spark in the forward line to better Dublin or Kerry.

If there was the slim chance that Mayo lacked motivation as they embark on their All-Ireland mission in 13 days, they were provided with plenty of it at the launch of RTÉ’s championship coverage on Sunday.

When have they ever been backed, says you.

But the reality is there is now a weariness about talking them up.

Yes, they are the one team that have run Dublin the closest these last two seasons and lost to the would-be champions in the last five campaigns.

But the opportunities they let slip against Jim Gavin’s men, in particular, have not just disappointed the neutral, who had for so long rooted for them, but disenchanted them too.

The obsession with Mayo is still there, but few are now asking why they are perennial bridesmaids and conclude that they will never be anything more.

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer bemoans being presented with the Denver Broncos as a gift from Hank Scorpio.

The episode was broadcast in 1996, and Denver had lost three Superbowls — 1987, ’88 and ’90.

Mayo are the butt of the same joke now.

The goodwill of 28 or 29 other counties — we exclude Dublin and Galway — was of no benefit to Mayo.

Now that it’s gone, it won’t be of much benefit either but it mightn’t hurt to be disdained.

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