John Mullane: Munster kings get raw deal
Bring back All-Ireland quarter-finals to offset Leinster champions' unfair advantage
At Croke Park last Sunday, RTE presenter Darren Frehill threw in a statistic during radio coverage of the All-Ireland semi-final between Galway and Tipperary.
Seated beside Darren in the press box, it was one that took me by surprise.
The last time a winner of the Munster Championship has gone on to lift Liam MacCarthy was back in 2005, when Cork managed it.
And since the beginning of the Millennium, just two Munster counties have achieved that provincial-All-Ireland double, Tipp the other in 2001.
The rate of All-Ireland semi-final attrition for Munster winners is also extremely high, and I should know because Waterford suffered that fate four times, in '02, '04, '07 and '10.
Richie Hogan's recent comments about the Championship structures should be taken on board by GAA top brass.
Here's the reigning Hurler of the Year speaking out publicly and saying that he 'hates' the system. That's a strong word to use.
Richie would much rather play a match every two weeks but this year, Kilkenny have reached an All-Ireland final after playing just three games.
Compare this with last summer, when they needed three matches just to reach a Leinster decider.
The bigger question is how have Kilkenny become masters of managing the long break between provincial success and an All-Ireland semi-final.
They won't publicly admit it, of course, but deep down Kilkenny know that they can design their training schedule towards peaking in August and September.
Nine times out of ten, they will beat whatever is thrown in front of them in Leinster - although 2013 and Dublin was the recent exception, and Kilkenny were blown badly off course.
The problem for the Munster champions is that they have to really hit the ground running at an earlier point in the season, from late May into early June.
If you get a run at all in the province and it's competitive, as it usually is, it can take an awful lot out of a team.
Take TJ Reid's comments after Kilkenny beat Galway in the Leinster final - he spoke about the hard work starting now, and how they would train like dogs to be ready for an All-Ireland semi-final, which they were. But they could afford to do so.
From a long way out, that five or six-week block will have been targeted as the time to get some quality work done to prime themselves for an assault on All-Ireland glory.
In contrast, Munster winners arrive at Croke Park with an element of softness that might not be apparent on the surface, but is there all the same.
Because of the prestige involved in winning a Munster title, and how bloody hard it is to achieve that feat, it should be celebrated, but it sidetracks and softens the mind ahead of the quest for the bigger prize.
Sometimes you're nearly better off losing early and gathering momentum through the back door.
We did in 2008 and reached an All-Ireland final, Tipp were the same in 2010 and last year, and Clare famously managed it in 2013.
I believe it's time to go back to the system where the Leinster and Munster champions play their next game in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
I go back to the period from 2005-07, when this was the case. Cork won the All-Ireland and contested another final a year later and we, as Munster champions in 2007, had two terrific games against the Rebels at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage.
It was intense run of games and it was being asked to play for a third weekend in a row that ultimately cost us against Limerick, not the system.
Maybe it's time for Croke Park to look at this again and bring back the quarter-finals, while also incentivising provincial success.
Rank every county based on what they achieved in the previous season, with the Munster and Leinster winners playing lower-ranked teams in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
What this does is break up that five or six-week gap while also providing counties like Laois, Wexford and Offaly with the chance to play at Croke Park.
It would also provide for a bumper hurling weekend at Croke Park or Thurles - two quarter-finals on the Saturday, two more on Sunday. It's surely worth considering.