Is hurling plan better than what we now have?

Quite the week for the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) last week. We don’t mean the launch of their terribly vague three-year strategic plan but how they chose to run it against a GAA event involving an official associate sponsor.

Is hurling plan better than what we now have?

If that wasn’t enough, GPA chief executive Dermot Earley then spoke to the press about how annoying it was that the GAA were now supporting new championship models with more games when they ran the GPA’s football blueprint out of town for the same reason.

In truth, the 40 extra matches the GPA were calling for is hardly comparable with the eight additional fixtures planned for in the Super 8.

And there was a further interesting development on Saturday: instead of the GAA announcing that Central Council had backed the new hurling proposals to be voted on at a Special Congress later this year, it was the GPA who broke the news with a late afternoon statement.

It opened: “At Central Council today, the GAA proposed a restructure of the All-Ireland Hurling Championships for approval at GAA Special Congress.” The GAA might not be too happy that the GPA were doing their work for them but that’s on them, not the GPA.

Later Saturday evening, Cork did the same when county chairman Ger Lane on Twitter revealed Central Council had agreed the All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals will take place in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on July 23.

Keen for some good news at the end of a bad week, it confirmed what most expected after the news that the new stadium won’t stage Sunday week’s Munster SFC final and the hurling decider seven days later.

Notwithstanding the GAA’s seeming reluctance to communicate in good time, which is now further called into question following recent disciplinary cases (Diarmuid Connolly and Brendan Murphy’s aside), the GPA as much as Cork had reason to deliver a positive message after a weak showing in Congress.

However, their calls for Central Council to postpone a vote on the hurling championship recommendations went unheard. At this stage, the GPA’s default setting seems to be taking a slap on the face.

For different reasons, Cork (the idea of a Munster team being relegated from the provincial competition) and Limerick (condensing the league) also have reservations about the new SHC plan.

While Hurling Development Committee chairman Paudie O’Neill, speaking to this newspaper last week, stated the qualifier group is in need of remodelling, a stance which is shared by half of the inter-county hurling squads, according to the GPA.

The Central Competitions Control Committee’s (CCCC) idea for the 2018-20 hurling championships, particularly the senior one, isn’t perfect.

Providing a pathway for an improving county into the All-Ireland series in the same season seems a fine idea but, as O’Neill highlighted, it does run the risk of landslide results when it might pit a Division 1A team against one from Division 2A.

But, really, just one question should apply — is the alternative being put forward an improvement on the model we have? The demand for more hurling action is met, although it is at the expense of the attractive knockout element of provincial competitions.

Last Sunday’s semi-finals between Cork and Waterford and Galway and Offaly could be the last of their kind. At the same time, it might just be a positive worth sacrificing if games are brought to the doorsteps of each Liam MacCarthy Cup county.

Heaven knows Galway, Clare, and Waterford (might former secretary Timmy O’Keeffe’s forecast that Nowlan Park will have to be used as a home venue until Walsh Park is redeveloped be realised?) have been crying out for it.

Yet the biggest issue with the CCCC’s work is scheduling. The month of July will remain predominantly football country. According to the draft schedule, there will still be five hurling games next July while football will boast 19.

As hurling is winding down, football is winding up although both finish up within seven days of each other in August. Next month, there will be 10 hurling matches — six qualifiers, two provincial finals and two All-Ireland quarter-finals, in contrast to 20 in football — four provincial deciders and 16 backdoor games. It’s a much fairer share of the pie.

As O’Neill mentioned last week, following a National League so soon after with a provincial format that runs along similar lines mightn’t be conducive to the game. Limerick’s idea of finishing up the league in March would help in that regard but only if that competition is reshaped. Division 1A is intense enough as it is without being played over an even tighter timescale.

And if the GAA really wants to show parity to developing hurling counties, then their competitions must be run over the same timeframe as the Liam MacCarthy Cup and not scheduled beforehand as if they are something to get out of the way.

The latter stages of the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups, according to the feedback the GPA received from squads, can provide curtain-raisers in the All-Ireland series.

What is going forward to Special Congress will not end up being voted on but that is necessary. There is room for improvement and timing is everything.

The GAA need only look back on Saturday to realise that truism.

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