Wexford boss Bonnar warns hurling league structure killing efforts of aspiring counties
Wexford hurling manager Colm Bonnar has called on the GAA to examine restructuring the Allianz Hurling League again or risk driving a further wedge between the best teams and those struggling to keep up the chase.
Wexford have dragged themselves back up into an eight-team Division 1 after two "lost years" in Division 2.
"Hurling is not like football. The standard between the best and the rest is much, much greater in hurling and that's why we can't operate a Division 1 and 2 system as it is," said Bonnar.
"Wexford have really suffered from time spent in Division 2. Some would say that's our own fault, perhaps, but the current system is helping to put more distance between teams like Wexford, Clare and Limerick and the rest, not helping them to bridge the gap."
There is much speculation that a variation of the system dispensed with three years ago may be restored where 12 teams, split into two sections, constitute Division 1.
That would help to avoid the 'yo-yo' effect that currently exists where the identity of the teams fighting it out for promotion from the second division is much too predictable.
"We can say with certainty that Limerick and Clare (who meet in Ennis on Sunday) will contest the Division 2 League final when it's up in May, just as we could say with certainty that ourselves and Clare contested it last year and Offaly and ourselves were in it the year before.
"You have to wonder what sort of league operates that way," said Bonnar, who admitted he has had problems motivating his players in the past two seasons with the prospect of Division 2 hurling on the horizon.
"With respect to some of the teams involved in the division, the sense of challenge wasn't always there. It was difficult to motivate players and, I'd say, the supporters.
"In our first year in Division 2 we won four of our games by 20 points or more. Last year we won three or four by more than 15 and that's taking into account a different approach we took.
"We didn't do any hurling training up to the middle of March because we felt we could get away with it and instead we could concentrate on our strength and conditioning. We were caught by Carlow, who are definitely improving, but it's a gamble that a team like us couldn't even contemplate in Division 1.
"We've had to front load all our strength and conditioning work into November and December and hit the ground running with ball work in January to be ready for these games.
"We know that there is light years between the standards in Division 1 and 2, which is why I believe all the MacCarthy Cup teams should be in a division together.
"A county like Clare, who are rebuilding with a young team should be up in Division 1 testing themselves at this time of year against the best. They are not going to improve as they should with another Division 2 campaign."
Wexford struggled in last year's championship with defeats to Galway and then Tipperary in the qualifiers.
"We were no match for their power and precision. Was hurling in Division 2 of the league a factor in that? I would say it played a part. I would say it definitely affected our standards."
Bonnar revealed that being back in Division 1 has brought a different mentality among the players.
"They're really anticipating it. The Oulart-The Ballagh players who lost the Leinster club final last week were straight back into it. They would have been entitled to another couple of weeks off, but these are the games they have been crying out for over the last two years. They were very keen to get back in."
Bonnar admits that a recent challenge against Tipperary reminded the Wexford players of what they are facing in the months ahead.
"These are the type of teams you can be trailing by three points one minute and by 12 the next. It leaves you slightly nervous ahead of a Division 1 campaign, but looking forward to it at the same time. It's about survival for us now," said Bonnar, who is now in his third year as Wexford manager.
Wexford begin their campaign in Galway on Sunday without Diarmuid Lyng, their 2010 captain, who has decided to take a year out to travel.
Eoin Quigley has had surgery on an ankle injury and is out until the beginning of March, while Malachy Travers broke a thumb in a recent challenge against Limerick.