Sunday 21 December 2014

Martin Breheny: The indecision is final on hurling league structure

Answers needed to discover why Central Council ignored its own decision made last December and created another mess worthy of 'Yes Minister'

Published 16/10/2013 | 05:00

Cork and Limerick played out a memorable Munster SHC final this year but their potential presence in next year's Division 1A has caused consternation in some quarters
Cork and Limerick played out a memorable Munster SHC final this year but their potential presence in next year's Division 1A has caused consternation in some quarters

When is a decision not a decision? When it's reached by the GAA's major power-brokers and involves competition structures. Then, it enters 'Yes Minister' territory, rinsed through the bureaucratic mix before re-emerging as a mere recommendation which must take its chance with other suggestions that have linked onto the ideas chain.

Even Sir Humphrey would be impressed by a process where the meaning of a word can be changed to accommodate the latest whim. The latest GAA example is straight from the 'make it up as you go along' handbook and leaves the Allianz Hurling League facing another change, the precise nature of which will be decided next month.

The GAA has long been addicted to changing the hurling league structure, lurching from one system to another in a manic trial-and-error sequence. A whole lot of trials and errors later, the search goes on and no format is yet in place for 2014, following a bizarre run of events in recent weeks.

Ineffective

Instead, counties are being asked to consider a submission from one individual after Central Council showed itself to be weak, ineffective and, worst of all, unwilling to back one of its own decisions which hadn't even got an opportunity to be tested over one season.

The GAA's Management Committee has an even bigger case to answer after deciding last weekend to support a proposal from a single committee member, which was given precedence over a Central Council decision.

The latest proposal for a new league format – devised by Michael Burns, a member of the National Fixtures Planning Committee – may have merit (although it needs to be teased out very carefully) but the question arises as to how it appears to be the only show in town with Management Committee backing.

Central Council members thought prior to last Saturday's meeting that they would be discussing a choice between the controversial proposal to restore Cork and Limerick to the top flight next year (they were supposed to be heading for 1B) and retaining 1A and 1B in the format which applied in recent years, albeit with the addition of quarter-finals in 2014.

Instead, the Management Committee intervened and, after considering a submission from Burns, decided to recommend it to Central Council. Why the amendment so late in the day?

And here's where Central Council showed how weak and easily led it really is. Last December, it made a decision on the format for 2014, so why did change of any kind come back on the agenda now? Why did the proposal to add Cork and Limerick to 1A gain such momentum in recent weeks? Where did it come from?

Wexford led the opposition to the latter idea, threatening to go as far as necessary to fight a proposal which they deemed to be deeply unfair on counties outside the top eight. There was even mention of legal action.

The proposal didn't come before Central Council and instead Burns' personal submission was fast-tracked up the agenda by Management. All very odd. Was Management so impressed by the idea that they came across all giddy with excitement?

Or were they fearful that if the change of conditions for Cork and Limerick came before Central Council, it would prove dangerously divisive, possibly even leading to legal action? The GAA public is entitled to answers.

Whatever the background, this has turned into a nasty mess. Burns' proposal may be accepted next month but that won't undo the damage that has been done to the GAA's decision-making processes.

Surely, when Central Council made a decision on the format for 2014, it was incumbent to proceed as agreed. Instead, Central Council has ignored its own decision in favour of considering a proposal from an individual member of a Fixtures Committee.

It means that Central Council either accept that they got it wrong last December or else they have no conviction. Either way, it doesn't reflect well on them.

As for the Management Committee, why did they even consider a proposal from one individual when they already had a Central Council decision on how to run the hurling league next year?

Wexford's well-argued case – against promoting Cork and Limerick to the top band while leaving others down the line – certainly appears to have changed the dynamic. Wexford may be no great fans of the system as agreed by Central Council last December but they still felt that, once agreed, it should not be changed in order to bestow special privileges on Cork and Limerick.

Their opposition took the debate in a whole new direction for reasons that nobody can quite fathom. Explanations would be welcome after what has become a very messy situation. And that's before consideration is given to how the likes of Carlow and Westmeath could end up shafted by a new league deal.

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