The knock-out element of hurling’s provincial championships will be replaced by a round-robin structure from next year if new proposals are backed.
The GAA yesterday released details of recommended changes to the Liam MacCarthy Cup, Christy Ring Cup, Nicky Rackard Cup, Lory Meagher Cup, U21 and minor championships from next season on a three-year basis.
Central Council will discuss them on Saturday week and if they give them the green light they will be discussed at a Special Congress later this year, likely October.
As had been anticipated, the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC), charged by GAA director general Páraic Duffy and president Aogán Farrell, have put forward the idea of the Munster and Leinster championships being played on a league basis.
In Munster, Clare, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford would all face each other, playing two games at home and two away.
Like in Leinster, which for the first year would comprise Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny, Offaly and Wexford, the two teams with the best records after the four rounds will contest the provincial finals.
As is the case now, the Munster and Leinster winners will be rewarded with All-Ireland semi-final slots (separate games) and the runners-up enter the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
However, instead of a neutral venue they will be handed home advantage.
In the quarter-finals, they will be joined by one of the third-placed teams. The other third-placed team will also make the last six providing they beat the winners of the provincial qualifying group, similar to the current Leinster qualifying group, in a preliminary quarter-final.
According to the proposal document, teams from the provinces will participate in that arrangement in alternate years. So, Munster’s third-placed team will be involved next year with a Leinster championship county having to win through to the quarter-finals in 2019.
The team that finishes last of the five teams in Leinster will be relegated to the provincial qualifying group the following season and replaced by the county that wins the provincial qualifying group, which will also be played on a round-robin basis.
However, should Kerry top that group they will play off against the bottom team in the Munster SHC to see who makes up the fifth team in the following season’s provincial competition.
Similar to Leinster, the team that finishes bottom of the provincial qualifying group will be demoted to the Christy Ring Cup and replaced by the Cup victors.
There will also be a promotion/relegation element between the Ring and Nicky Rackard Cups and the Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups.
Both the Ring and Rackard Cups will involve eight teams, split into two groups of four, the top team in each group facing off in a final.
The Munster, Leinster and provincial qualifying groups will be played off over the same timeframe. The All-Ireland semi-finals will be staged over the same weekend, most likely at the end of July.
As stated in the document, a prime reason why these proposals were authorised was the fear that the new “Super 8” football championship, which is set to increase the number of games by eight, would negatively impact on hurling.
The number of Liam MacCarthy Cup games will jump from four to nine matches in Munster and six to nine in Leinster. Excluding the provincial qualifying group, there will be nine more fixtures than at present.
However, the calendar outlined by the CCCC suggests that there will still only be five games in July — the Munster final, the All-Ireland quarter-finals and semi-finals (in 2019, the All-Ireland final is pencilled in for August 19).
The possibility of hurling being dwarfed by football in July by 19 matches to five was one of the major concerns expressed by hurling personalities in the wake of Congress’ decision to back Gaelic football’s Super 8 format to replace the quarter-finals.
For the U21 championship, the CCCC recommend that Galway and Ulster teams of “sufficient strength” be permitted into the Leinster championship. The two provincial competitions would be retained but the winners of each would then face off in the All-Ireland final as Galway and the Ulster champions would be accommodated in Leinster and All-Ireland semi-finals would no longer be required.
The CCCC propose the minor championship be played as is up to the provincial final stages with the winners advancing to the All-Ireland semi-finals. However, it’s suggested the provincial runners-up enter a mini-group with Galway to decide which two teams join them.
The idea of Antrim being facilitated in the Leinster MHC is also mooted.
Hurling championship proposals, 2018-’20
Munster (Clare, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford) and Leinster (Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny, Offaly, Wexford) played on a round-robin basis. Each county plays four matches, two at home and two away. Top two teams in each group contest provincial final. Winners progress to All-Ireland semi-finals, beaten finalists qualify for All-Ireland quarter-finals along with one of their third-placed teams. The other third-placed side faces the county that finishes top of the provincial qualifier group ( Antrim, Carlow, Laois, Kerry and Westmeath) in a preliminary quarter-final. Provinces will take turns (Munster first) to establish which of their third-placed teams faces the qualifier group winners in a preliminary quarter-final, the winner of which progresses to the quarter-finals. The bottom team in Leinster will be demoted to the qualifier group the following season.
Galway and “any Ulster teams of sufficient strength” to compete in the Leinster championship. The competition retains its knock-out nature but without semi-finals; the Munster and Leinster champions contest the All-Ireland final.
Leinster and Munster championships to be played as present with the winners of each qualifying for All-Ireland semi-finals. The runners-up in each go forth to compete with Galway for the two remaining semi-final slots.
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