He claims the league is weighted against the teams struggling at the moment and prevents counties from creating a basis to work off. The former All-Ireland winning manager believes the GAA must scrap pre-season tournaments like the Waterford Crystal trophy and Walsh Cup if needs be to provide teams to create room for an expanded league.
“I have very strong feelings about how the league is structured. The current format is elitist, anti-promotion, anti-development,” he said. “At the moment on the inter-county scene Kilkenny are the monopoly. They dominate and fair play to them for that.
“They’re setting the bar for everyone else in the way they prepare, the way they play, the work that has gone in over the years. Tipp and Galway are the two leading the chasing pack then four or five more after that again.
“The challenge is, how are we going to grow this sport? In Divisions 1A and 1B this year there was absolutely no margin for error. No manager could experiment, could try out new players, because no-one could afford to lose a single game. Really it’s almost a championship with too many counties marginalised.
“How long is it going to take Wexford or Offaly or Antrim to get out of Division 1B? Next year now you’ll have either Cork or Clare there, along with whoever loses between ourselves and Dublin. It’s totally wrong, weighted against the struggling teams.
“This format should be scrapped, it’s doing absolutely nothing for the promotion of hurling.”
He’s not just criticising though. A former All-Ireland winner as both player and manager, John also has recommendations.
“Expand the number of teams and the number of games in each division and then you’re allowing teams to experiment. You’re allowing teams to lose a game or two. You’re also giving teams who aspire to getting to the top a chance to play against the likes of Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway, Cork and the rest.
“They’re doing great work in Carlow but when will they see Kilkenny in the league? Give them the opportunity. Let them sink or swim but at least they know what they’re up against. Give the supporters in those counties a chance to see the best players in action.
“Scrap the Waterford Crystal tournament if necessary. Scrap the Walsh Cup and get down to league action earlier. And one team going up, one team going down, that’s not enough. In the last three years Limerick have lost only one game in the group stage yet we’re still in 1B – how fair is that?
“You top the group but even still it’s not enough, you now have to play a one-off promotion final.”
Food for thought for the GAA, but “rant over!” as he said himself. John then talks about this evening’s game.
“All of this makes this a massive game for us. The first aim for us this year is to get back up to 1A and I’m sure it was the same for Dublin. This is huge, for both teams. Training has gone exceptionally well, the players have bought into everything, but it took us a while to bring that on to the field of play. We weren’t able to shake off either Antrim or Carlow in our first two games and full credit to them both for that, but we were not playing well. Even against Dublin, 20 minutes into that game it was looking bad and had Dublin taken their chances we would have been in trouble.
“But then we finally found our rhythm, we were quick, we were direct, we’ve worked hard and we’ve kicked on from there.”
Despite the feverish nature of the league they’ve even been able to look at a few new players.
“Yeah we said to the players all along that the period between league and championship was probably the only opportunity we were going to get to look at fellas but luckily enough we were in a position last week where we had already qualified for the final so we could start a number of other players against Wexford. Several put their hands up, Mark Carmody and Alan Dempsey especially so, young as they are, Cathal King the same, Paudie Ahern did well at centre-forward.
“There’s very little between us and Dublin so it’s all on the night. Small margins will make the difference, maybe a score against the run of play. Score enough during your period of dominance, limit the damage when you’re under pressure, that’s what you’re trying to do. Dublin have been there or thereabouts for a few years, Limerick are on the way up – it has the makings of a very good final.”