Saturday 21 October 2017

'This will set counties back a lot' - Rigney

Laois stalwart unhappy with plan to limit Leinster Championship to five counties

Laois’ John A Delaney goes toe-to-toe with Galway’s Joe Canning during the 2014 Leinster SHC quarterfinal when Cheddar Plunkett’s men were unlucky not to beat the Tribesmen. Photo: Sportsfile
Laois’ John A Delaney goes toe-to-toe with Galway’s Joe Canning during the 2014 Leinster SHC quarterfinal when Cheddar Plunkett’s men were unlucky not to beat the Tribesmen. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

In June 2014, Laois came within a blocked 20-metre free of beating Galway in the Leinster hurling quarter-final. Eoin Reilly's last-minute drive was saved and cleared, leaving Galway as two-point winners.

Last Sunday, ten of the Galway team that came so close to suffering a stunning defeat that day climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand as All-Ireland winners.

Despite being able to match future champions only three years ago, Laois are facing the distinct possibility of being excluded from next year's Leinster and All-Ireland championships.

Central Council, the second highest power in the GAA behind Congress, want the race for the MacCarthy Cup reduced to ten teams - five each in the Leinster and Munster Championships - for the next three years.

Each province would be played off of a round-robin basis, with two 'home' and two 'away' games. The top two finishers in each province would contest the finals, with the winners advancing to the All-Ireland semi-finals and the losers playing third-placed finishers in the quarter-finals.

There is no provision for counties outside the top ten to contest the All-Ireland championship.

Detrimental

Instead, the winners of a Tier 2 championship would be promoted to the MacCarthy Cup tier in the following season, with the bottom team in Leinster dropping down.

If the plan is accepted at a Special Congress on September 30, Galway, Kilkenny, Dublin, Wexford and Offaly will contest next year's Leinster Championship, with Clare, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford battling for the Munster title.

Antrim, Carlow, Kerry, Laois, Meath and Westmeath would contest Tier 2, with the winners to be promoted to Tier 1 in 2019.

Niall Rigney, who played for Laois in three separate decades before later managing them, believes that being excluded from the Leinster Championship would have a seriously detrimental impact on hurling in the county.

"A manager is trying to get players to commit to the cause and to put in a big effort while they all know they won't even be allowed compete in their own provincial championships next year if the proposal is passed. That will turn some players off and would knock back the county in a serious way.

"There's a good core group in Laois now and they should be encouraged, not told they have to win a secondary competition before they can even play in the Leinster Championship.

"It's not just Laois either. You have other Leinster counties too who won't be allowed into their own championship. I can't see how that helps anyone. Counties should be encouraged to take their chance, not told they aren't good enough.

"When I was managing Laois the big thing was to avoid dropping down to Christy Ring level. It would be very hard to get lads to commit fully if they weren't allowed into the Leinster Championship," said Rigney.

Laois led Galway well into the second half of their 2013 championship clash and, a year later, were very unlucky not to beat them.

"You had Laois lads saying to themselves after watching Galway win the All-Ireland last Sunday, 'We should have beaten them a few years ago.' But if this proposal goes through, they won't even be allowed on the same field as Galway. How does that help Laois or other counties like them?" said Rigney.

Laois, Offaly and Meath will propose that the Tier 2 finalists be admitted to the All-Ireland championships in the same year, via preliminary All-Ireland quarter-finals, against the third-placed teams in Leinster and Munster. Central Council are opposed to that on the basis that those games are likely to be one-sided affairs, which serve no real purpose for the Tier 2 finalists, while also increasing fixtures pressures.

However, they may have to accept the amendment if their main proposal is to get the required 51 per cent majority, since there's likely to be sympathy for Leinster counties who are excluded from their own championship while 'outsiders' Galway are facilitated.

With Cork, Tipperary and Dublin also tabling motions, there's a risk that none of the proposed changes will be accepted, leaving the championship to continue in its present format.

Indeed, there are many who believe that it's actually working well and not in need of reform at this stage.

However, a counter-view is that the introduction of extra games in football's 'Super 8' series next year would lead to a profile imbalance unless hurling had its programme extended.

Cork are calling for a 'Super 8' in hurling too, featuring provincial finalists (4) and qualifiers (4) with the top two in each group qualifying for the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Tipperary are tabling the most complex motion of all, involving losers' groups in Leinster and Munster, allowing beaten teams to re-enter their provincial championships.

It could mean that a team lost twice in the provinces, yet still reached the finals. And if they lost there, they would get another chance in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

It's unlikely there will be much support for this proposal as a county could win the All-Ireland title after losing three games in a 10-team competition.

Dublin want a return to the system that prevailed in 2005-'06-'07, when eight teams qualified for the All-Ireland quarter-finals, which were played on a knockout basis.

However, that was discontinued in 2008 after complaints that the Munster and Leinster winners were no further advanced in the All-Ireland championship than six other teams still left in the race.

The order in which the motions are put to Congress will be important. If the Central Council plan is voted on first, Cork, Tipperary and Dublin will all vote against it, on the basis that they also have proposals on the agenda.

However, if those three motions are put first and one of them succeeds, the Central Council plan collapses, something which Croke Park is unlikely to allow happen.

Irish Independent

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