Alternative league proposal sees hurling 'fight back'

A move to include Cork and Limerick in Division 1A of next year's Allianz Hurling League has been put on the back burner, drawing praise from the likes of Wexford's All-Ireland winning manager Liam Griffin and Offaly great Joe Dooley.

Alternative league proposal sees hurling 'fight back'

A move to include Cork and Limerick in Division 1A of next year's Allianz Hurling League has been put on the back burner, drawing praise from the likes of Wexford's All-Ireland winning manager Liam Griffin and Offaly great Joe Dooley.

Counties such as Wexford and Offaly had expressed strong opposition to the GAA's controversial proposal to have an eight-team Division 1A in 2014, thus seeing relegated Cork and a Limerick side who missed out on promotion from Division 1B bumped back up to the top flight.

A meeting of the Central Council took place yesterday where the matter was discussed, but the GAA confirmed afterwards that "no decision on the future structure of the league was reached at the meeting".

Instead, Monaghan's Michael Burns, a member of the National Fixtures Planning Committee, got a positive reception for an alternative proposal he presented.

Counties will be given time to discuss Burns' "graded" format before the Central Council reconvenes for its next meeting.

If passed next month, the alternative proposal would see the top 12 hurling counties "graded" for the league - the top four would be 'A' teams, the next four 'B' sides and the bottom four ranked as 'C' teams (based on last year's league results and subsequent promotion/relegation).

For example: 1. Tipperary A, 2. Kilkenny A, 3. Galway A, 4. Waterford A, 5. Clare B, 6. Cork B, 7. Limerick B, 8. Dublin B, 9. Offaly C, 10. Wexford C, 11. Antrim C, 12. Laois C.

Then the teams would be drawn into two equal sections - two As, two Bs and two Cs in each section. A sample league structure would be:

Section I

A - Tipperary, Waterford

B - Clare, Dublin

C - Offaly, Laois

Section II

A - Kilkenny, Galway

B - Cork, Limerick

C - Wexford, Antrim

The league rounds would see each county play each other in its own division once, equalling five matches. Then each county plays the two teams of the same grade (A, B or C) in the opposite section (two 'inter-section' games), so that equates to seven fixtures overall for each side.

The top two teams in each section enter semi-finals, with the bottom sides in each section playing off for relegation.

Burns' proposal, which is similar to one used in the late 1990s-early 2000s, would see each county get seven games with at least three home fixtures. Each county plays at least two 'A' counties each year and all 'A' counties will get to play each other.

Although there are some flaws to the structure, the 10 so-called 'strong' hurling counties are involved, while the semi-final and relegation structures are kept simple.

The finishing positions in 2014 would decide how counties are graded for the 2015 league.

Giving his reaction, Liam Griffin, who guided Wexford to All-Ireland SHC glory in 1996, told RTÉ Radio 1: "Hurling has fought back. Teams like ourselves, Offaly and Laois didn't need to be left behind and that's what would have happened.

"Many questions were raised about how the GAA's (league) proposal came to the table in the first place, but this (alternative) one is much more inclusive and is good news for counties like ourselves who are back winning at minor and Under-21 and just need a chance to keep building."

Joe Dooley, the much-decorated former Offaly player and manager, tweeted: "The revised hurling league proposal looks very fair, every team gets equal number of games and less pressure on everyone."

However, Carlow, who played in Division 1B this year and lost a relegation play-off to Antrim, and Westmeath, who narrowly missed out on promotion from Division 2A, are unhappy with the alternative proposal which would see them hurling outside of the top two divisions.

Carlow manager John Meyler said it would be 'a huge setback' for the county. "That top 12 bracket is where we need to be to continue the progress we're making but it doesn't look good," he conceded.

Meanwhile, the Central Council decided that all future All-Ireland final replays will be played on Saturdays following the success of the recent Cork-Clare hurling replay at Croke Park.

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