Cause for cau­tious op­ti­mism on hurl­ing re­form

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - SEÁN MO­RAN GAA Cor­re­spon­dent

The GAA spe­cial congress in Croke Park to­day will be a mul­ti­lay­ered event. Osten­si­bly con­vened to con­sider ways of im­prov­ing the hurl­ing cham­pi­onship, it can end up hav­ing a far more pro­found ef­fect on the big is­sue of the day – the hith­erto un­tame­able fix­tures monster.

Put sim­ply, if the Cen­tral Coun­cil pro­posal – more or less ac­cepted as the one with the best prospects of suc­cess – is suc­cess­ful, the hurl­ing cal­en­dar can be slot­ted in with the ex­per­i­men­tal foot­ball for­mat for a three-year trial pe­riod.

Whereas there are ob­vi­ous con­cerns about how these struc­tures will work, they are, after all, just ex­per­i­ments, and there is at least a par­al­lel in­ter­est in free­ing ad­di­tional week­ends for club ac­tiv­i­ties.

Ag­gre­gated, the var­i­ous re­forms of re­cent years – ra­tio­nal­is­ing un­der-age grades, re­duc­ing re­plays and so on – can pro­duce a 50 per cent in­crease in in­ter­county-free week­ends be­tween 2016 and 2018, from 16 to 23 or 24.

Small trim­mings as well as big cuts can fa­cil­i­tate this fur­ther: elim­i­nat­ing All-Ire­land un­der-21 semi-fi­nals by tak­ing Ul­ster and Gal­way into Le­in­ster and All-Ire­land club quar­ter-fi­nals by bring­ing the Bri­tish clubs into Con­nacht.

The com­pet­ing pro­pos­als from Cork, Tip­per­ary and Dublin aren’t ex­pected to at­tract greater sup­port than Cen­tral Coun­cil’s, but there’s no guar­an­tee that any of them will be ac­cepted, even al­low­ing for the newly low­ered bar for chang­ing rules, which was taken down from two-thirds to 60 per cent at last Fe­bru­ary’s congress.

Cen­tral Coun­cil’s mo­tion isn’t merely about shift­ing around the fur­ni­ture. It has a philo­soph­i­cal thrust in want­ing to pro­vide more com­pet­i­tive fix­tures in the cham­pi­onship cal­en­dar.

The ve­hi­cle for this, round robins in both the Le­in­ster and Munster cham­pi­onships, isn’t guar­an­teed road­wor­thy as the for­mat re­lies on par­ity of stan­dards and en­gag­ing a hith­erto scep­ti­cal pub­lic about the mer­its of be­ing weaned off knock-out com­pe­ti­tions. There have, how­ever, been suf­fi­cient signs of life in both Le­in­ster, un­usu­ally, and Munster to con­vince the framers of the Cen­tral Coun­cil mo­tion that the struc­ture can work.

Nor is it en­tirely a mat­ter for the tra­di­tional hurl­ing coun­ties, many of whom op­pose the plans, as the pro­vi­sion of more fix­tures and greater cal­en­dar cer­tainty for those graded in the Ring and Rackard Cups has rel­e­vance to many foot­ball coun­ties.

It seems harm­less but there is con­sid­er­able alarm among of­fi­cials that the Cen­tral Coun­cil mo­tion could be ac­cepted and then a cou­ple of emo­tive speeches later, an amend­ment that would, in one es­ti­mate, add three week­ends to the cham­pi­onship thrown in to com­pro­mise any progress.

Will the pro­posal suc­ceed? Even its ad­vo­cates aren’t sure but there is a sturdy op­ti­mism that it may just edge into pos­i­tive ter­ri­tory.

There are ob­vi­ous con­cerns about how the struc­tures will work

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