Clare star Tony Kelly wants to see the GAA retain the All-Ireland SHC qualifier system on a long-term basis instead of returning to the provincial round robin structure.
The Central Competitions Control Committee reverted to the backdoor for this year’s winter championship and it is expected to remain in place in 2021 as the GAA plans with Covid in mind.
However, Kelly, PwC All-Star hurler of the month for November, would like it kept permanently as it lends to a more exciting championship.
“I would have been a big advocate for the group system when it came in, but having played in it and going back to the qualifier system this year I’m a fan of the qualifier system. I think it’s more cut-throat in terms of championship format.
“I definitely like that you get a second chance but I like the structure of it. Leinster and Munster is very strong and you might have three games in a row where you would be playing Tipp, Cork, then get a week off and face Waterford. I think it (backdoor) gets rid of a dead rubber game at the end of it.
“Going back to this structure, there may be more of an emphasis on the league because if you’re looking at it you have a league and then you’re trying not to overdo it because you know there’s such an intense period in the Championship.”
Kelly doesn’t hide the fact that a knock-out Munster SHC may give Clare their best chance of bridging the gap to their last provincial success in 1998.
“You have to be logical about it as well. The group system, you might have to beat three Munster teams in four weeks to get to that Munster final. Whereas, you might get drawn in a Munster semi-final and you win that game and you’re in a Munster final so you’re halving the journey. It is far more pragmatic, it is an easier route.”
Asked what Clare have to do to take the next step apart from fit-again All-Stars returning to action, Kelly believes it’s gym work and the county board and management working closely.
“One thing that stood out was the conditioning and physical strength that Waterford put on in 12 months. We've a lot of young lads coming into the panel and Brian (Lohan) gave them their chance this year. The younger lads have seen and got used to real championship action. You can be blooded in the league but it's not really until you go out in the championship that you see what the pace is. Going forward, it's about building on the experience they got.
“In terms of help for Brian and his management team, we wouldn't see much of what's going on behind the scenes. Brian and the management would deal with that. But you'd be hoping the county board are doing everything they can to help the management team and the players. It's basically a collective effort. You need buy-in from all angles, players, management and county board to get over the line. Any team you'll see winning at the weekend, it's complete buy-in.
Turning 27 next month, Kelly agrees the outgoing season saw him play “the best hurling I've played for Clare”. He is currently wearing a moon boot to protect the ligaments he damaged in Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Waterford. It’s the second time he’s had to wear the boot after damaging the same ankle in early 2016.
“I got caught in Conor Cleary in the warm-up, doing a tackling shooting drill, and it was fine. It was grand after that, it wasn't a bother on me. Then maybe five minutes into the game, over near the sideline, whatever way I landed, just going out over the line, I just completely went over on it and that's when I did damage it.
“It's my second time. I was in one for two or three month, three or four years ago for the same ankle. It won't be as long on. I'll try to get it off next week, try to build it up again and see where I go from there.”