I welcome any change that increases the number of competitive matches
FOR the vast majority of hurling supporters, as satisfying as it was, the 2017 inter-county scene is well and truly in the rearview mirror. Club is king from here to the end of the year. Rightly so, and if Clare is anything to go by, there’s more than enough going on to sate the appetite at local level.
The senior, intermediate and junior competitions are down to the business end and there’s also a plethora of activity at underage level — and even more, I’d imagine, in those counties that made it to Croke Park in August and September.
If, like so many of us, you are immersed in local GAA — whether it’s coaching the club or school, organising the pitch, the ref or the water bottles, providing the taxi service to and from the never-ending cycle of training and matches, or all of the above — yesterday’s Special Congress was something that you might not have been paying a great deal of attention to.
The initial Central Council proposals first crossed my radar in May. Broadly speaking, I was in favour of them. But that’s more than four months ago now, and I’d long committed them to the recesses of my memory. It was only last week, when the merits and demerits of the other motions and alternatives being proposed were garnering column inches and air-time, that I started paying attention again.
I’m no different to the ordinary man on the street in that regard, but we’re not the ones charged with preparing the calendar for 2018 and beyond, and that’s something that looks radically different after events in Croke Park yesterday.
The introduction of the Super 8s in football next season has clearly been the catalyst for the proposed changes. To be fair to Central Council, they were proactive in moving early to allay the concerns of those in the hurling community. There was a legitimate worry that hurling may find itself swamped promotionally with so many football games in high summer. That said, does the Super 8 hold the same appeal now, after a really competitive hurling summer, and the disappointingly one-sided nature of the football quarter-finals and one of the semi-finals?
There were positives and negatives with each of the various proposals. Within the new adopted provincial round-robin system, matches such as Clare v Limerick on a Saturday evening in Ennis or the Gaelic Grounds in front of, say, 20,000, makes a good deal more sense than was the case when they met this year in a half-empty Semple Stadium, in front of a similar crowd, with a place in the Munster final at stake.
Anything that increases the number of competitive matches — and I stress ‘competitive’ — has to be welcomed, and the likes of Waterford and Galway will now get their quota of home games, something Galway in particular have been crying out for.
The only drawback I see is that under the new system, the early stages of the club championship, which are often played at the end of April or in early May, could come under threat, especially with the desire to bring the calendar forward and get the All-Irelands over by the end of August.
Cork’s alternative, mirroring the football Super 8s, would have left that time available earlier but also meant a hectic fixture schedule later in the season, especially for the bigger counties competing in the dual codes. Kilkenny’s proposal to wait a year and see how things pan out before making any move seems to have been trumped by the appetite for change and desire to start moving things forward.
I can only presume that the Tier Two hurling counties — Laois, Westmeath, Carlow, Meath, Antrim and Kerry — have been listened to, vis-a vis what best meets their needs.
Allowing the finalists of their new competition a preliminary Liam MacCarthy Cup quarter-final against the beaten provincial finalists is a clear nod to that, but how competitive those fixtures prove to be is contingent on them doing the work required to close the gulf that exists.
It is no surprise to me that the Central Council motion was carried. No doubt, the powers that be had crunched the numbers beforehand and had a good idea they were going to be there or thereabouts. The discussion seems to have been healthy, and if there was merit in trying to reach some form of consensus before any vote was taken, clearly not everyone is going to be happy with the changes.
Speaking in favour of the Central Council motion, Connacht president Mick Rock said yesterday: “It’s time to take that leap of faith again for three years”. I’ve no issue with that. Let’s judge it then.
Waterford and Galway will now get their quota of home games