Up­roar as hurl­ing revamp gets green light

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - SEAN McGOLDRICK

THE traditional hurl­ing coun­ties suf­fered a stun­ning re­buke at yes­ter­day’s GAA Spe­cial Congress when de­spite their dire warn­ings about the im­pli­ca­tions of the newlook All-Ire­land cham­pi­onship, del­e­gates backed the plan — al­beit nar­rowly.

So for the next three sea­sons, there will be a round-robin se­ries of games in the Mun­ster and Le­in­ster cham­pi­onships. The 10 com­pet­ing coun­ties — five in each prov­ince — are guar­an­teed a total of four games, two of which will be at home.

The coun­ties are Galway, Kilkenny, Wex­ford, Dublin, Of­faly (in Le­in­ster) and Water­ford, Tip­per­ary, Clare, Lim­er­ick and Cork (in Mun­ster). There are doubts, however, about whether Water­ford’s Walsh Park can host a cham­pi­onship game for the first time since 1996.

Del­e­gates over­whelm­ingly backed a motion spon­sored by Laois, Of­faly and Meath to al­low two teams from Tier 2 to com­pete in the Liam MacCarthy Cup as well.

GAA di­rec­tor gen­eral Paraic Duffy re­vealed after the Congress that the 2018 All-Ire­land hurl­ing final will be played on Au­gust 19. There will be an ear­lier start to the Na­tional League and it is en­vis­aged that April will be left free for club fix­tures.

There will be five tiers in the new-look cham­pi­onship — the MacCarthy, Ring, Mackey and Meagher cups to­gether with a yet-to-be-named Tier 2 com­pe­ti­tion in which Antrim, Car­low, Kerry, Laois, Meath and West­meath will com­pete.

All com­pe­ti­tions will be run on a round-robin for­mat and there will be pro­mo­tion and rel­e­ga­tion be­tween com­pe­ti­tions. Fur­ther­more, All-Ire­land hurl­ing cham­pi­ons Galway will fi­nally have a home game in the cham­pi­onship.

Fol­low­ing the com­ple­tion of the round-robin se­ries in Mun­ster and Le­in­ster, the top two teams will com­pete in their re­spec­tive pro­vin­cial fi­nals, with the win­ners ad­vanc­ing di­rectly to the All-Ire­land semi-fi­nals, with the beaten fi­nal­ists guar­an­teed a place in the quar­ter-fi­nals, as is cur­rently the case.

The third-placed teams in each prov­ince will re­main in the Liam MacCarthy Cup. They will be drawn against the two fi­nal­ists in the Tier 2 com­pe­ti­tion, with the win­ners ad­vanc­ing to the last six in the All-Ire­land se­ries.

The even­tual win­ners of the Tier 2 com­pe­ti­tion will be pro­moted to the Le­in­ster cham­pi­onship in 2019, with the bot­tom team in the Le­in­ster round-robin next year be­ing rel­e­gated.

However, in the event of Kerry — the only Mun­ster team in Tier 2 — win­ning the com­pe­ti­tion, they will meet the bot­tom team in the Mun­ster round-robin com­pe­ti­tion, with the win­ners ad­vanc­ing to the Mun­ster Cham­pi­onship proper in 2018.

An at­tempt by Cork to drop this pro­vi­sion was over­whelm­ingly beaten.

Cork ar­gued in favour of the re­ten­tion of the cur­rent for­mat for the pro­vin­cial se­ries with a Su­per 8 for­mat sim­i­lar to football for the All-Ire­land se­ries.

Vet­eran of­fi­cial Frank Mur­phy said it made more sense to have ex­tra hurl­ing games at the same time as the ad­di­tional games in football were be­ing played.

“It re­duces the risk of traditional coun­ties be­ing rel­e­gated and the de­fla­tion­ary im­pact of that. It also al­lows sum­mer space for club. There will be ir­repara­ble dam­age to pro­vin­cial cham­pi­onships,” he said.

Tip­per­ary’s Tim Flood said hurl­ing was a sum­mer game for all play­ers, not just in­ter-county play­ers and only two per cent of the 4,000 adult play­ers in Tip­per­ary are in­ter-county play­ers.

Tipp pro­posed a back-door pro­vin­cial cham­pi­onship that would leave room to play club fix­tures be­tween May and July.

Water­ford chair­man Paddy Joe Ryan said clubs in the county were op­posed to the new struc­ture. He ar­gued that it was “rid­dled with un­cer­tain­ties” and he warned that it would be “the worst de­ci­sion in the his­tory of the GAA if it hap­pened”.

But the wide­spread sup­port for the Cen­tral Coun­cil pro­posal out­side the traditional hurl­ing coun­ties was re­flected in the 62-38 per cent vote in favour. Bizarrely, eight del­e­gates ab­stained.

Were it not for a rule tweak at Congress ear­lier this year which saw the weight of vote needed to change a rule re­duced from two-thirds to 60 per cent, the pro­posal would have failed.

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