Ger Cunningham: It’s time to revamp U21 championship

Ger Cunningham has called for a revamp of the All-Ireland U21 hurling championship, proposing a second chance be afforded to both the defeated Leinster and Munster finalists.

Cunningham believes the timeframe of the U21 championship could also be condensed, even with the introduction of two additional games at the quarter-final juncture.

On only one occasion since the competition’s inception in 1964 have the Ulster champions progressed to the All-Ireland final — Antrim in 2013 — and the Bord Gáis Energy Sports ambassador reckons both the Ulster winners and Galway would benefit from entering the championship at the quarter-final juncture as opposed to the semi-final stage.

Galway, who have fallen at the penultimate hurdle the last three years, were unsuccessful in gaining entry to the Leinster U21 championship last winter and do not support the current championship structure.

“Galway minor manager Jeffery Lynskey said in relation to minor and U21, that potentially if things went against them, some of their players would only get three matches (at U21 level), if they lost all three games.

“We’ve been talking, as sponsors, that maybe to help that, that Galway and Antrim would go into the quarter-final and the Munster and Leinster losing finalists go in at the quarter-final stage and play them, to give them the benefit of another game. Two extra games in the championship is something that might be looked at,” said Cunningham.

“In relation to the timing of it, to bring that in in late July or early August, when the calendar is busy, might be an issue. But if it was well planned out early in advance, it’s something that could be looked at, maybe on a midweek, on a Wednesday night. We’ve mentioned it and they’ll consider it.”

He continued: “If you look back through the history of [the semi-finals], I think Ulster have won one in 30 years or something. Again, it’s to prepare them to go in at that stage. If you’re good enough, you’ll come through the quarter-final. In the past number of years, we’ve seen Antrim come down with 19 players into an All-Ireland semi-final.

“A quarter-final would benefit Galway, if they were good enough to win that match. It’s very hard to come in cold into an All-Ireland semi-final. [Galway’s attempts to move into Leinster] doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, they’re not going into Leinster. People would say coming straight into an All-Ireland semi-final is a good place to be, one match before the final, but taking Jeffrey’s comments, the danger of those guys potentially getting three games at a very important grade before senior, I thought it was an interesting point.”

With regard to Brian Cody’s comments and bringing forward the All-Ireland hurling final to early August the Dublin manager holds no qualms with the idea of an August decider.

“Sometimes there seems to be a long delay between the matches but if you ask the players, they’d prefer to play the matches fairly quickly and get it done. If they decided to bring it forward, I’d have no issue with it.”

Present at GAA headquarters on Sunday, the former Cork goalkeeper described Kilkenny’s win as a “phenomenal achievement”, given the team’s catalogue of injuries.

“They are hard beaten in finals, they know how to win. At half-time, it was looking bleak enough from a neutral point of view, from a Kilkenny point of view, they were three-points down and they hadn’t really played. To come out in the second half and score 14 points, with all the injuries and retirements, fellas missing, to be able to do that. They are just so hard beaten in finals.”

As for championship 2015? Last year’s edition offered greater entertainment, he claimed “I suppose people’s expectations at the start of the year might have been high. We’ve had three great finals over the last number of years and maybe people will have thought at the start of this year that there were more teams there to challenge and to threaten, so maybe in some people’s eyes, it was more open. But it became quickly established with Kilkenny, they had four matches to win an All-Ireland if they keep winning. And Tipperary would have been seen as the challengers, but Galway got on a good run.

“It probably wasn’t the real exciting games that people might have been expecting. Compared to last year, we had the replays and the Wexford-Clare matches and that kind of stuff. In the middle of summer you had great matches and it probably wasn’t there this year.”


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