Sunday 18 February 2018

Changes will add 19 more games to calendar

Joe Canning in action for Galway during the All-Ireland final Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Canning in action for Galway during the All-Ireland final Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The number of senior inter-county championship games across the board in hurling and football will increase by 19 in 2018 after Special Congress changes over the weekend. Of that figure, 11 will come across the five tiers of the hurling championship.

The headline motion, which has successfully introduced a round robin system for the provincial finalists, will ensure 22 provincial games between Leinster and Munster with the addition of a preliminary quarter-final - to incorporate the top two teams in the new tier-two competition in the MacCarthy Cup where they will play the third-placed teams in each province - bringing the overall number of games in the principal hurling championship competition to 29, excluding a relegation play-off.

That presents the anomaly of the fourth-placed team in the provincial round robin being out of the hurling championship earlier than those two teams in the tier below.

Three of the four existing competitions - MacCarthy, Ring and Rackard Cups - will see a rise in games because of the round robin system being introduced.

In the cases of the Ring and Rackard Cups, the increases will be modest with the MacCarthy jumping by seven games from 22 in 2017. That does not include the Leinster qualifier which this year featured Kerry, Laois, Westmeath and Meath, a group that loosely equates to the new tier two competition.

There were six round robin Leinster qualifier games but with six counties participating in tier two in 2018, the number of games will now jump to 16, including a final.

The biggest drop will be at Lory Meagher Cup level where the number of teams is dropping from six to four and, consequently, the number of games drops from 16 in 2017 to just seven in 2018.

Reduction

The changes mean that just 11 extra inter-county hurling championship games will be added, when all tiers are included, to the schedule but with the addition of the eight additional All-Ireland football quarter-finals, that increases to 19. However, a reduction in replays will help to balance the equation.

The main motion was largely opposed by counties where hurling is prioritised and the bigger dual counties, with the obvious exception of Galway who were prime beneficiaries with two home games now guaranteed on top of entry to the Leinster U-21 Championship.

Cork have expressed genuine fears about being unable to fulfil their championship schedules, especially in a year when both their flagship hurling and football teams thrive.

Tipperary were also among those who spoke against the Central Council motion, warning of the difficulty in playing out club championships.

But they had already been looking at potential change and had discussed it at the county board meeting last week in the knowledge that the new calendar will make their existing programme of games impossible to complete within the time frame.

"We have 11 rounds as it stands in the hurling championship and nine or 10 rounds in the football championships. The issue we have is we have a divisional championship running into it so we're going to have to divorce the divisional championships because that adds about three or four rounds to it," predicted Tipperary secretary Tim Floyd.

"We have expected this for the last 12 months and have been pushing it out there to the clubs. There is a strong resistance to it. Our November county board meeting decides this so we'll probably have a forum in the next few weeks to spell it out to clubs.

"It wouldn't work," said Floyd of trying to blend their programme into the new framework. "Most years we would see ourselves being in an All-Ireland semi-final at least, based on the last 10 years. We have to be planning into August. I couldn't even see us using much of August."

Irish Independent

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