GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail has revealed that a new look hurling championship structure “broadly similar” to football’s Super 8 format could be in place as soon as next year.
Hurling commentators have noted the imbalance that will exist between the amount of hurling and football championship games during the peak summer months, when football’s All-Ireland quarter-finals are replaced with a new group stage. Ó Fearghail acknowledged this and said that it “would have an effect on hurling” if not addressed, though he revealed plans are being drawn up to tweak the hurling structure.
The Cavan official, in his last year as GAA chief, said it would ultimately mean more games for hurling in the latter stages of the championship.
He said it’s possible that proposals for hurling championship reform could be presented to a Special Congress later this year, allowing for their implementation in 2018.
“A lot of counties told me that they would support, and they did support at Congress, the reforms in inter-county football, but they said that really in hurling we need to be moving,” said Ó Fearghail.
“I’ve always said it publicly to you, and privately to the counties, that we need to focus on football at the moment, but we’ve got that done and now hurling needs to be addressed. There’s no doubt about it.
“It’s the one thing in the whole debate that I accept: If you have a lot more inter-county games in football and you don’t do something about hurling, that would have an effect on hurling.”
Asked if reform could take place in 2018, Ó Fearghail nodded.
He said: “It can of course. We need to do something similar [to football]. We have the broad outline of a plan there. Again, it will be Central Council that will lead on it, it has to be, but myself and the ard stiurthor have written to our various committees and shown them a broad outline of a plan for the reform of the hurling championship that would be broadly similar to football, more games at the end stages in a tighter period.
“It needs to happen because we could never do anything that might damage hurling and there was always the chance that if you had a lot more football it could have that impact.”
Ó Fearghail said a plan will be presented in a matter of weeks for a tightening of the inter-county fixture schedule, freeing space for club activity.
“At the moment, we are very close to having a substantial fixtures template to show we are able to condense the inter-county calendar and it will be a shorter period they are playing in and there will be additional games, because of the changes we made to the quarter-finals [of the football championship], but we believe we will be able to do it in a tighter time frame, giving more space to clubs and I am certainly very happy with what I see happening on it and I hope in June that Central Council are able to share it with the wider GAA community,” he said.
“We need now to be able to say: ‘This is the way it will look.’ I’m hoping Central Council approve it and it will be a substantial improvement for clubs.”
It remains to be seen if the changes appease the Club Players Association (CPA), whose representatives met Ó Fearghail on Wednesday and, presumably, were told of the plans. The CPA said yesterday that: “The discussions focused on fixtures analysis and possible solutions. The CPA presented a number of detailed research based proposals that we feel offer the GAA the opportunity for progress, based on our analysis of 32 counties.
“We sought also to communicate the view of our members that there is an opportunity here to act with some urgency to change the fixtures landscape and to remove frustrations felt by grassroots GAA players. Inclusion of fixtures proposals in any special congress to discuss other matters would be a good starting point.”
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