It’s a shame it’s not in place for this year, this weekend. Picture it – and with weather like this, it’s so easy to picture it.
The sun-kissed streets and terraces of Ennis heaving, with All-Ireland champions Tipperary being in town.
Davy and his charges in the cauldron that is Wexford Park, chomping for a crack at Galway to see if there really is something different about Galway this year.
Waterford facing a tricky assignment in Cork. Kilkenny – and Dublin – in Parnell Park.
Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait some more for a scenario like that; just as we’ll now have a fifth consecutive weekend of fine weather without a senior inter-county football game of any real interest.
Hurling will also have to wait until May 21 for something to relish, and even then the matches will come in a trickle, not a stream.
But we should have it in place for 2018. Just as we expected, the Hurling Development Committee and the GAA itself were always going to respond to football’s Super 8 format and now a round-robin series within the provinces should be signed off at a Special Congress next autumn.
In many ways, The Sunday Times and Denis Walsh – who broke the story last weekend – are right in describing it as a “radical new format”.
For the first time in the history of the senior inter-county championships, teams – and county boards – will be guaranteed at least two home games.
It cements the principle of the round-robin format as a core component of the running of a GAA championship, not something auxiliary or exceptional. The games will be coming thick and fast, for the players and to the people.
In many ways though, it’s not that radical.
Fourteen years ago I proposed the exact same format in a column I wrote for the old Sunday Tribune (see below).
It was published on July 13, triggered by the sight of thousands of people streaming out of Croke Park after Tommy Walsh, playing at wing forward, had hit over his third point of the day for Kilkenny in a routine 12-point Leinster final win over Wexford.
With a talent like Walsh coming through and Offaly and Wexford regressing, you could see the rest of the decade unfolding. Leinster would have to change. Hurling would have to change.
The same day the article was published, Galway were playing a second-round qualifier against a Tipperary side coming through the backdoor.
Tipp would shade it, by a single point. No backdoor for Galway. Cruel. Unfair. Madness. At the time Leinster was just confined to Leinster counties. I suggested in that article that there should be a Tri-Province championship.
And in 2009 that’s essentially what the Leinster championship would become. Galway were invited – hardly welcomed – to challenge for the Bob O’Keeffe Cup.
Yet eight years on from their debut in Leinster – and 14 years on from my article – and Pearse Stadium still hasn’t hosted a single provincial championship match.
It’s not just Galway that have lost out over the years. Even the aforementioned Tommy Walsh, who retired on nine All-Irelands, missed out on some experiences. He never got to experience Pearse Stadium on a hot summer’s day.
During his playing days he spoke about how much he loved the league, the games coming thick and fast, one after the other. Bar a couple of excursions through the backdoor, he didn’t get to sample that during the summer.
At least now, a former teammates of his like Richie Hogan – who has spoken about how much he “hates” the current championship format – won’t have to wait five weeks between championship games.
Everyone wins under this format. Players (including minors – you would hope that the format will be adopted for that grade too). Supporters. And especially county boards and county grounds. Pearse Stadium will finally get to host a couple of summer games.
The new Páirc Uí Chaoimh will now find it easier to shift some of those 10-year tickets. Even Waterford with Walsh Park will now have to face up to what to do with the place.
There are no details yet who or where will host provincial finals but may we recommend they adopt our 2003 (for 2005) proposals: whoever finishes top of the provincial standings should choose the venue for the provincial final, giving every team an incentive to play for something in their last group game.
Croke Park would probably lose the Leinster final (unless Dublin top their group) but it should gain the All-Ireland quarter-finals because all the counties would gain as well.
In football the leading counties routinely play in Croke Park. Last year a Clare team won a national league and reached an All-Ireland quarter-final and still didn’t play at headquarters.
The new system will also be a more equitable way to decide who advances to the All- Ireland series proper. Even allowing for the luck of the draw and all that, it can all be too random, even too unjust.
Take last year and the unusual case of the trio of Dublin, Wexford, and Cork. Early in the summer, Dublin hammered Wexford in Croke Park yet a few weeks later their summer was over, after they lost narrowly to Cork in Cork. Then Cork lost to Wexford in Thurles.
Wexford went on to contest the All Ireland quarter-final. Dublin exited the championship a full two rounds earlier. Was their form and summer really that inferior to Wexford’s? The system tells us yes, significantly so.
Everything else, especially reason, screams no. Finally – thankfully – hurling is listening to reason.
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