Joe Cooney fears new hurling format will dilute quality

Clare chairman Joe Cooney is fearful the changes brought about at Special Congress will dilute the competitiveness of the Allianz League and Munster SHC, as well as provide further uncertainty to the club player.

Clare officials, having held lengthy discussions with club delegates and senior management ahead of last Saturday’s Special Congress, were hopeful of the status quo prevailing. And while Cooney is thankful for the two home games they are guaranteed in the Munster SHC for the next three summers, he believes there will be repercussions elsewhere.

The first round of the Clare SHC is typically played off in mid-May, this is no longer possible, however, under the structure voted in last weekend. A mid-April start is now mooted, but the picture becomes unclear thereafter.

“Clubs want certainty, but there is no certainty with regard to club fixtures and we still have no idea if we’ll be able to play club championship in mid-June or will we have to down tools until mid-August,” Cooney remarked.

“If lads go off to America for the summer and Clare are knocked out in mid-June after the Munster round-robin, we could run into difficulty as clubs will be reluctant to play without lads who are away. If you leave it then until the end of summer, you are looking at possibly three or four months without club action.”

Hurling Development Committee chairman Paudie O’Neill, quoted in these pages on Tuesday, expects the new structure to have a “domino effect” on the league. Cooney shares this sentiment.

“If teams know they are going to be playing four games in five weeks across May and June, are they really going to go all out during the league? I would have concerns that they won’t. The league, especially the tight nature of Division 1A, has been a major crowd-puller. That is likely to change.

“I’d have the same concerns with the Munster SHC. There have never been dead-rubbers in the Munster championship, but that could conceivably happen if a team has nothing to play for or if a team is already assured of their place in the Munster final. This year’s Munster championship was one of the best in a very long time and you just hope it doesn’t suffer as a result of the round-robin format.

“None of us like to see change, but change has been voted through and so we have no option but to go along with it.”

The capacity of Cusack Park is close to 14,000 at present, with the Clare County Board chief optimistic this figure will have risen to 18,000 by the time the 2018 Munster championship swings into action owing to minor work currently ongoing at the venue.

Meanwhile, Tipperary football manager Liam Kearns has warned of potential “chaos” when the restructured senior hurling and football championships come into play.

Kearns doesn’t believe it will be feasible to run off club fixtures in April.

He told Tipp FM: “They’re talking about the provincial championship starting the first week of May. Are they seriously saying we’re going to release players to the clubs for the whole of April, and then play the first round of the championship in May?

“That doesn’t work. The month before the championship is a crucial month and I really don’t know how it’s going to work. Is every county going to release their players back to clubs for the whole of April, and then start from scratch again in May? I don’t think this has been thought out very well and there could be a lot of chaos in relation to this.”

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