'Club players are getting a raw deal' - Hurling legends unimpressed with new format
Despite all of April being cleared of inter-county action and the All-Ireland final being played as early as August 19, serious doubts persist as to whether the new hurling championship format will bring any meaningful benefit to club players.
Some reservations have also been expressed about replacing the knock-out system in Leinster and Munster with a 'round robin' series, although guaranteeing all counties two 'home' games is regarded as a positive development.
There's also a view too that the All-Ireland hurling final, which will be played on the second-last Sunday in August for at least the next three years, should have been brought forward to an even earlier date.
The Irish Independent canvassed the opinions of four well-known figures who served club, county and province with distinction in a variety of capacities over many years. Indeed, in the case of Niall Gilligan and Fergal Hartley they are heavily involved in the pursuit of county titles this year.
Gilligan (41), an All-Ireland medal winner with Clare in 1997, is still playing with Sixmilebridge, who will face Clooney-Quin in the county final on Sunday week while Hartley is Ballygunner manager as they attempt to retain the Waterford title.
Stephen McDonogh hurled with Limerick for 13 years while John Conran had an even longer playing career with Wexford before leading them to their last Leinster title win in 2004.
Gilligan: "I can't see the change to the championship system being of much benefit to club players. That's my big issue with it. The All-Ireland final is being brought forward but not by enough.
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"I'd like to see it played by the first Sunday in August at the latest. That would open up a decent period for club games. In reality, there are 10 counties going for the All-Ireland so why should it take four months to run off the championship?
"This year, Clare had nine weeks between their last league game and the Munster semi-final and another five weeks for the final. It's too long.
"April is supposed to be kept free for club games next year but with the Munster championship starting earlier, how many will be played?
"Club players are getting a raw deal everywhere and I doubt if the changes will make any great difference. I don't think there was anything wrong with the way the All-Ireland championship was run. We had great provincial and All-Ireland championships this year and I can't see the need for change on that front."
Hartley: "I have mixed views on what's coming in. Again, it comes back to the club game and the uncertainty that's there for so many players every year. Other than bringing the All-Ireland final dates back by a few weeks, what's there for club players?
"I know it might sound radical but I would like to see the All-Ireland final played a lot earlier still. Bring it back to around mid-July at the latest. That way, you have two seasons - one for the county, one for the club.
"Everyone would know where they stood then. It would certainly make things better for club players.
"I'm not sure there was a lot wrong with the All-Ireland format as it stood. Having said that, the new system will be very interesting. There might be a view that provincial games will lose their intensity because they aren't straight knock-out but I don't think that will be the case.
"For instance, in Munster, there's very little between the five counties so every game will be very competitive. My one concern is that the teams that finish fourth and fifth will get to play no one outside Munster. The 'back door' guaranteed cross-province games in the qualifiers. That was good for everyone."
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McDonogh: "The elephant in the room is the club issue. We all know that club players aren't getting a fair deal.
"Keeping April free of county games looks good but with the championship starting so soon afterwards, managers will want to have players as much as they can so how much club championship action will there be?
"The 'round robin' will suit a developing team like Limerick, guaranteeing them extra games but some counties will be out of the championship by mid-June, just as the summer is warming up.
"We had a great Munster championship this year and I wonder will it be quite the same without the knock-out element. Only time will tell, I suppose but I would have my doubts.
"I suspect that attendances will be down under the new system. Attending games is an expensive business for families so they will pick and choose which days they go."
Conran: "Guaranteeing all the counties two 'home' games is a good idea. It's a fair way of doing things for players and will certainly be welcomed by supporters.
"Four games is a good test for teams - they will know where they stand at that stage. I know people will say that if Wexford beat Kilkenny under the new system, there wouldn't be anything like the same excitement as there was this year.
"On the other hand, there were enough years when we lost to Kilkenny and were out of the Leinster championship. There's a way back now for all teams who lose a game in the provinces.
"One issue I would have is Galway's permanent place in Leinster. If they weren't there this year, Wexford would probably be Leinster champions, which would have been a great achievement.
"Galway have to be accommodated somewhere but why does it have to be Leinster all the time? What not have them in Leinster and Munster every second year?"
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