The GAA’s Central Council want the Liam MacCarthy Cup confined to 10 teams, with the format of the Leinster and Munster championship radically altered.
Attendances at this summer’s Munster SHC games were up by 27% on the year previous, with the number of patrons filing through the turnstiles rising from 100,868 to 127,992.
Were the Central Council motion to receive the green light, the number of Munster SHC fixtures would increase from four to 11, while the figure in Leinster (excluding the qualifying group) would jump from six to 11.
O’Sullivan said the desire for more high-profile games must be met. He appreciates a move to round-robin would rule out club championship action in late April, May and the first half of June, but added that a lot of counties, under the present format, do not run off a significant amount of club matches during this period.
“People tend to forget the All-Ireland finals will be completed by the end of August. The counties who don’t make an All-Ireland final or semi-final will have ample opportunity to run off their county championship during the summer,” noted the Munster Council chairman ahead of Saturday’s Special Congress.
There were 30 Cork senior championship games played in April and May of this year and with this in mind Cork GAA chiefs have tabled a different alternative — a Super 8s motion where more inter-county games would be introduced at the latter end of summer.
The provincial chairman sees the merit in the Cork offering, but fears it could dilute the worth of the Munster championship.
“There is a possibility that format would have an effect on the Munster championship. A concern of mine would be that the Super 8s would lessen the Munster championship because there’s a strong possibility that the top five teams in Munster would make it through to the last eight, irrespective of how they fare in the Munster championship.”
The Croke Park motion affords each county two home games in their respective provincial championship. Waterford’s Walsh Park last saw championship fare in 2003. O’Sullivan believes it important to return top-level hurling to Waterford’s premier venue, along with Cusack Park in Ennis.
“We are fortunate in Munster that we have some very good stadiums, but Waterford and Ennis have been losing out in that regard in recent years because their buildings haven’t been big enough to hold Munster championship games. If this motion was approved, it would encourage them to further improve their facilities. Financially, there would be a benefit for them in that gate receipts from big Munster championship games could be used to offset redevelopment costs.”
He added: “There’s been talk of potential dead-rubbers arising from the round-robin, but with the third-placed team going through to the All-Ireland quarter-final, I don’t see how that could happen.”
The move to limit the number of teams to 10 has drawn strong criticism from Kerry, Laois, Meath and Westmeath.
The Munster Council chairman insisted that if a county is of sufficient quality to sit at the top table, then they will progress up from the proposed Tier 2 championship
“Some counties are competing at a very high standard on a regular basis, while other counties come and go and their standards fluctuate. There is no point putting teams into a competition for the sake of it and having the daylights hammered out of them on a regular basis. That does nothing for those counties or the promotion of the game.
“If you want to get up to that top level, you have to get down and do the hard work.”
Meanwhile, the Club Players Association (CPA) has received assurance from Croke Park top-brass that the 2018 master fixtures plan, to be circulated at the end of next month, will provide more weekends exclusively designated for club action.
In a meeting with senior Croke Park officials last Friday, the CPA took up the offer to present their analysis and proposals before the CCCC.
“We will be targeting Congress 2018 to be the Congress that will change the landscape for the club players,” read a CPA statement. The club body remains critical of this weekend’s Special Congress, describing the hurling-dominated forum as an “afterthought” and “an example of further disjointed management”.