More hurling action should be the target

Four days out from a hurling-dominated Special Congress and what will be decided for next year’s senior championship is anyone’s guess, writes John Fogarty.

More hurling action should be the target

That a motion now requires 60%, not 66.66% to be successful doesn’t make things much clearer.

Just because more and more hurling counties seem to be against the central GAA proposal to transform the provincial championships from knock-out to round-robin doesn’t explain a whole lot either. Not when predominantly football counties outnumber them and certainly not when the traditionally strong voting power of the likes of Cork, Limerick, and Tipperary has been dramatically cut by the fact this is a Special Congress and all counties will have just two delegates. That’s according to the GAA’s statement a couple of months back although there are suggestions each county will have half their usual delegation number plus their Central Council delegate.

If counties only have two delegates, it means on Saturday a county like Cavan, who usually only have four delegates, will have the same as Cork, who usually boast 10.

Cavan returned to championship hurling this year for the first time in seven years although they have not put out a team in the Allianz League since 2011. Between them, the 10 counties that could comprise the Munster and Leinster championships next season might only have 20 votes among them. They are outnumbered by a ratio of over 2:1 by the rest of the counties while Central Council, the past presidents and current Uachtarán Aogán Farrell will also have votes.

Hurling counties have learned the hard way that their football colleagues have a big say in how motions fare and given the delegation sizes the chances for more of the same are short.

Indeed, it can be argued there would be no need for this gathering in Croke Park but for the football folk who voted in favour of the Super 8 series earlier this year. Next July, because of that addendum to the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals combined with a more condensed inter-county calendar, championship hurling is set to be dwarfed by 19 matches to five. Even if the round-robin provincial structure is passed, that is still likely to be the case as the extra matches in Munster and Leinster will be scheduled for the early part of the summer.

For counties already buckling under the pressure of delivering cohesive club schedules in two codes, that is a difficult ask when their Julys could be club-free zones should their senior football teams reach the Super 8.

Hence why Clare, Cork, and Tipperary are opposed to crippling themselves. Hence why Cork have fashioned a motion to replicate the Super 8 model in hurling and Tipperary are understood to be one of a few counties supportive of such a move. At least then July and August can be considered county-only months for both football and hurling. For dual counties, it’s the better fit.

For Cork as you would assume the rest of the competitors in the Munster SHC, there’s also the fear of one of the five being relegated from the championship.

Dublin have called for the reintroduction of four quarter-finals, meaning the provincial champions would lose the reward of a passage into the All-Ireland semi-finals. That structure previously existed between 2005 and ’07 but was done away with.

Bridging the gap between the provincial finals and All-Ireland semi-finals didn’t much help the Munster and Leinster champions. In 2005, Kilkenny lost to Galway in a semi as did Waterford to Limerick in ’07.

As Tipperary captain Pádraig Maher points elsewhere in today’s newspaper, there is a danger in that four quarter-finals could de-incentivise a provincial campaign. To win an All-Ireland going through the front door, the two Munster teams drawn in the first round or every Leinster team bar the previous year’s winners would have to win six straight matches.

This Special Congress is merited even if it is only for hurling to declare that they are happy with their lot. Kilkenny want to adopt a wait-and-see approach, calling on others to cool the jets until they see what effect, if any at all, the expanded All-Ireland SFC has on the smaller ball game.

“We had a brilliant hurling championship this year, big crowds, tight games and great atmospheres,” said Kilkenny chairman Ned Quinn recently, “so it’s not as if there is an urgent need for change.”

Hurling, though, shouldn’t be too quick to congratulate itself when this season was not a fine one regardless of the advances made by Galway, Cork, Waterford and Wexford.

Novelty shouldn’t be mistaken for quality.

Be of no doubt that there is an appetite for more top level hurling matches, a desire that pre-dated the introduction of football’s Super 8 and was reflected by the hurling development committee under former GAA president Liam O’Neill.

To increase the number of championship games while compressing the schedule wouldn’t be reactionary but an indication that county officers know the market.


Cork will look within for Kingston successor

It was more than a tad careless on Cork’s behalf to lose a manager of Kieran Kingston’s ilk after the season he enjoyed. It’s clear the potential he so obviously unlocked, after transforming a team deemed also-rans to contenders.

But then it was always going to be the prerogative of the man himself. Just as work commitments compelled him to step away as selector and coach under Jimmy Barry-Murphy after three seasons, the day job was a contributory factor on this occasion. The loss of Pat Harnett as a selector was another given their friendship as was his wish to let his son Shane develop without him on the sideline even if Shane was being picked on merit alone.

What happens next? Well, what we do know is the next manager won’t be a manager at all. Well, at least not in name. When Cork name Kingston’s successor he will be a coach as the board executive are keen that, much like their appointment of Ronan McCarthy, the man they choose is also the man who takes the principal role in conducting the training sessions.

Kingston would have done that under Barry-Murphy as Frank Flannery did at his behest last year and as Pat Ryan did this past season. Ryan, whose work is admired by the players, might appeal to the selection committee but then fellow selector and U21 manager John Meyler is a seasoned operator in both management and coaching roles. Keeping Diarmuid O’Sullivan as part of the set-up would also make sense.

Either appointment might even be considered almost as natural a succession as John Allen taking over from Donal O’Grady after he too unexpectedly departed after a great season in 2004 but Kingston will be missed.

Offaly motion poor form

For a county that has made quite a bit of cash thanks to Galway in recent years via games in O’Connor Park, you don’t need to wonder too much about why Offaly GAA find themselves in such a hole at the moment when you consider their protectionist motion in front of Special Congress this Saturday.

Now, the same point might be made about Cork insisting on the preservation of the line-up of the Munster SHC but then they aren’t as brazen as Offaly who openly fear the strength of Galway under-age hurling. Their proposal calls for Galway’s U21s not to join the Leinster competition, but participate in Munster with any Ulster teams playing in Leinster.

Nine months ago, Brian Cody said Galway should be fully incorporated in Leinster meaning home games at senior level too. Offaly obviously aren’t in Cody’s position of strength to be so full of good will but when the argument is often made that playing the better counties brings on teams why can’t Offaly see that extra competition is good?

As it has stood for quite a long time now, the Munster U21 championship is a brutally tough competition to win. Adding Galway to it when the Leinster competition is not as strong would be counter-productive.

It’s on Offaly, not Galway, that a supposedly proud hurling county has contested just three U21 finals in 17 seasons and haven’t claimed one since 2000. Galway’s introduction won’t change that – Offaly have been doing poorly enough without them.

More in this section