I wel­come any change that in­creases the number of com­pet­i­tive matches

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT / GAELIC GAMES - JAMESIE O’CON­NOR

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

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