Martin Breheny: 'Gal-exit' a real threat as venue row intensifies
Published 12/11/2016 | 02:30
Suggestions that Galway might withdraw from the Leinster senior hurling championship in protest over venues may appear like no more than loose winter talk but the reality is that the drums of discontent are being banged ever- louder out west.
Eight seasons and 23 games after moving east for championship purposes, Galway haven't hosted a single game and are being told that there's no prospect of it happening any time soon.
Galway's request for their minor and U-21 teams to play in Leinster has also been rejected, further heightening tensions at a time when the overall structure of the All-Ireland senior championship is considered to be running well.
However, the refusal of Leinster counties to enter into a home-and-away arrangements with Galway has now become a real issue, with the potential for wider trouble.
It even prompted Jarlath Cloonan, a former senior county team manager and an influential figure in the county for many years, to suggest that if Leinster maintains its hardline approach, Galway should consider applying to join the Munster Championship - provided, of course, that home-and-away deals were involved.
Galway played in the Munster Championship from 1959-69, winning only one game, against Clare in 1961. They also had only one home game in that period, also against Clare in 1965.
Modern-day Galway hurling is a much more powerful operation so whether Munster would be willing to accommodate them is a moot point.
It's unnecessary to explore that particular avenue yet, but there's no doubt that the venue row with Leinster is intensifying.
It's understood that the Leinster Council executive would be happy to see home-and-away arrangements but individual counties are not prepared to go west under any circumstances.
Nickey Brennan, former GAA president and Leinster Council chairman, is among those who has expressed dismay at the province's failure to fully integrate Galway into their championships, describing it as "a case of looking at things through a very narrow set of glasses."
The Kilkenny man was one of the main movers behind the 'Galway to Leinster' initiative during his period as Leinster chairman and later when it came on to the national agenda at a Special Congress in October 2008.
"As far as I'm concerned, Galway should be in Leinster, lock, stock and barrel. The hurling family should do all it can to work together in everyone's interest. A big Leinster hurling match in Pearse Stadium would be a great occasion in Galway. They're entitled to it," said Brennan.
Not so, according to the Leinster counties who have refused to go any further than Tullamore. Indeed, Offaly have done very well out of the arrangement, with Galway playing six games in O'Connor Park, generating a sizeable amount of rent money.
Yet, Offaly won't enter a home-and-away deal with Galway, despite being closest of all Leinster counties. But then, they opposed Galway's entry to Leinster in the first place, as did Dublin, Wexford and Westmeath.
There was considerable opposition to the move east in Galway too, with the vote in favour winning on a 66-54 majority.
Many of those who voted against the proposal changed their minds over the last seven years as the apparent sense of Galway competing in a provincial championship became obvious.
However, the mood has altered again, arising from the refusal of Leinster counties to travel to Galway for any games. Pearse Stadium has hosted only one hurling championship tie - Galway v Clare in the 2011 qualifiers - since Galway joined Leinster.
The Leinster Council has encouraged counties to enter home-and-away deals with each other but cannot force them into it - hence the stand-off with Galway.
Adding to Galway's annoyance is the different policy which applies in the Leinster 'round robin' where counties have regularly travelled to Antrim venues.
And Kerry had two home games in what was their first venture into Leinster this year, yet there's no change on the western boycott.
The big concern now is that Galway threatens to withdraw from Leinster, a move that would have considerable support in the county. That would escalate the dispute to national level, since a county cannot be forced to compete in a different province.
Even if that were the case, how could it be justified to force Galway to remain in Leinster when counties exclude them from arrangements they apply among themselves east of the Shannon?
Central Council has always been reluctant to interfere in provincial matters, but this unusual situation has a national dimension since Galway's participation in Leinster is a key part of the All-Ireland framework.
If Galway threatens to leave Leinster, it will immediately become a Croke Park problem. In those circumstances, a diplomatic intervention from the central powers is required now before the situation worsens.
Leinster counties can scarcely make a credible argument that Galway is too far away, although that has been mentioned. Don't they have to travel there for league games? Besides, Tullamore is only 78 miles from Galway, Portlaoise 100 miles and Kilkenny 108 miles while it's motorway all the way from Dublin to Galway, which also has a regular rail service.
Besides, Galway travelled to Croke Park to play Dublin last year, but wouldn't reciprocate for the replay which was played in Tullamore.