The new hurling proposals focus almost entirely on the provincial championships. Why is this? asks Donal O’Grady.
Over the years there has been talk proposing an open championship draw but most of the debate in recent seasons centred around the Allianz League format and the question of a six- or eight-team Division 1A.
I have heard little comment about the need to revamp the provincial championships. They are not knockout but they are the next best thing. There is an atmosphere and an edge to the games that is steeped in tradition and the rivalry of near neighbours.
Champions League-style groups may bring a novelty factor for the first year or two but the championships as we know them, with weeks of debate and expectation in the lead-up, will cease.
In effect, we will have another national league-type programme with many of the same teams meeting again. The provincial championships are sustained by the traditional rivalries of the pairings.
Next weekend Innovate Wexford Park will have the ‘house full’ signs up early. Why? Because this is championship. The big test where one county pits its best against the ‘old enemy’s’ top 15, in a fight to the death where nothing is left on the field.
There is a backdoor but this never enters the mind of the players or management, until the trapdoor opens and then they make the best of things. However, with an extra three chances, the edge and atmosphere now present will disappear and the quality of the games will suffer.
The proposals have one group of five in Munster and two groups in Leinster, one with the top five and another made up of a development group, the current ‘round robin’ teams.
Overall, six teams progress. At present, two teams come from the round robin and then compete in the full Leinster championship. If beaten, they then progress to the qualifiers. I think that this system works in that it provides at least two serious championship games for the ‘development’ counties in summer conditions.
If these new hurling proposals are passed, the winner of the ‘development round robin’ will play the third Leinster or Munster team for a quarter-final place. Kerry v Cork maybe? A game between these protagonists at that stage of the All-Ireland series would be a farce.
A ‘Super 8’ was proposed for football which will take place in July and August. One argument advanced by the hurling constituency was that hurling would be swamped by the glut of football games in these months and by the almost blanket press, radio, and TV coverage attaching to these. This is a legitimate fear.
But these hurling proposals do nothing to assuage these fears. The same number of hurling games will take place in July and August as heretofore.
However, the hurling semi-finals may be downgraded if they take place over one weekend. My preference would be to leave the provincial championships and qualifiers as they are but with a tighter schedule. A ‘top eight’ (two groups of four) would then play off in a league system in July, over three weekends. The top two in each group would progress to the semi-finals. This would counter-balance the massive coverage of football in July and August and help with the development of hurling.
One of the strengths of the football proposals, championed by Páraic Duffy, was the sample championship timeline. One of the weaknesses of these proposals is the absence of a similar example. At present, Munster and Leinster hurling championship games dovetail nicely to avoid clashes. Games in the same province are held on separate weekends, as far as possible. This ensures that patrons can attend the various matches and the contests are shown live on television, a vital component in the development of the sport.
What will happen if these proposals are implemented? Galway U21s and minors will benefit and that’s only fair. But hurling in the two main provinces may suffer.
Will Munster and Leinster hurling games clash with each other? Will many games be timetabled for Saturday afternoons because of the pressure to complete fixtures? Which games will be televised? There are many questions. Some answers are needed.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved