Congress decision a mess for hurling
Published 03/03/2016 | 02:30
It started with Antrim feeling left out after losing their place in the All-Ireland senior hurling championship this year and has ended with the GAA facing a mess which will not easily be tidied up.
The Leinster championships and All-Ireland qualifiers will be seriously impacted upon if the Antrim plan, due to come into operation next year, remains in place.
It arises from the Congress decision, taken last Saturday, to allow the Christy Ring Cup winners immediate access to the Leinster quarter-finals, rather than waiting until the following season.
The ripple effect of what may look like a relatively minor adjustment is so significant that it's highly probable Central Council will intervene in an effort to minimise the impact. Incredibly, there was little opposition to Antrim's proposal that Christy Ring Cup winners play in the Leinster Championship.
The motion commanded a sweeping 80-20 majority, with the lack of opposition suggesting that attention among many delegates may have strayed towards the General Election first count results and/or to the upcoming Ireland-England rugby international.
Given the size of the majority, it's obvious that some Leinster counties voted for the proposal, despite the implications it would have for their own championship.
Whether the motion should even have been discussed is debatable since Congress decided on Friday night to continue with the current championship format.
That was part of a formalisation process by Central Council as the three-year cycle comes to an end this season, making it necessary under rule to update it for future championships.
At face value, it looked as if that would debar any further debate on the championship this year but the Antrim motion was still discussed on the following day.
If delegates had considered the implications in detail, they would surely have voted it down or, at the very least, asked for it to be re-submitted with some amendments next year. Instead, they waved it through, presumably oblivious to the many issues involved.
There are, at the very least, eight clear anomalies and contradictions which need to be addressed.
What was agreed?
Christy Ring Cup winners will be allowed to play in that year's Leinster quarter-finals. The current arrangement sees them joining the Leinster 'round robin' in the following season.
Congress voted last Friday night to retain the 2014-'16 All-Ireland hurling championship structure in future seasons. On Saturday, Congress voted for an Antrim proposal, which changes the qualifying format as outlined above. How could a decision taken on Friday night be changed less than 24 hours later?
An Ulster county could compete in four different championships in the same year: Christy Ring, Ulster, Leinster and All-Ireland.
The Christy Ring Cup (second tier championship) winners would qualify for the Leinster quarter-finals, while four Leinster counties from Tier 1 would play in the province's 'round robin' series, with two to qualify for the quarter-finals. Effectively, the Tier 2 winners start in Leinster from a more advanced position than four Tier 1 teams.
With the Christy Ring Cup winners playing in Leinster, the province can no longer run its championships in his favoured format, which involves the previous year's winners automatically seeded through to the semi-finals. Under the new system, the winners (Kilkenny this year) would enter at the quarter-final stage.
Three of four Leinster quarter-finalists will play in the All-Ireland qualifiers. But what three? Congress supported the Antrim motion which stated that "a play-off should determine the three." How can one play-off in a group of four decide anything? And if more than one play-off is required, how will it fit into an already over-crowded fixtures schedule?
One county could play seven games (four Christy Ring, a Leinster quarter-final and two play-offs) to even reach the All-Ireland qualifiers, whereas a Munster team could win the All-Ireland title with four wins.
Rule 6.17 states: "A county may participate in both the senior (Tier 1) and intermediate hurling championships. Otherwise a county a shall participate in one Tier: Tier 2, 3 or 4of the All-Ireland senior hurling championships."
How then can the Christy Ring (Tier 2 winners) play in Tier 1 (Liam MacCarthy Cup) in the same season?
At a time when space for club games is under intense pressure, adding more games to the All-Ireland schedule would add to the problem. It would also require bringing forward the Christy Ring Cup (final is currently played on the first weekend in June) in order to have the winners available for the Leinster quarter-finals which were completed on June 5 last year.