Kelly slams 'off-the-wall' hurling proposals as weaker counties feel pinch
Few managers have as much experience in hurling's second tier as Eamonn Kelly and the Laois boss has slammed hurling's new reform proposals, scheduled to be discussed at a Special Congress on September 30, branding them as "off the wall".
Kelly's main bone of contention with the suggested format is the creation of a third qualifying group (consisting of Laois, Westmeath, Kerry, Antrim and Carlow based on this year's standings) to be played off on a round-robin basis.
The winners would earn promotion to their relevant provincial championship for the following season but with stints in Kerry and Offaly already under his belt, the Tipp native feels the proposals will push weaker counties further away from the game's elite.
Kelly feels disinterest will quickly set in without any tangible incentive to compete in a given year and he suggests the formation of an All-Ireland 'B' competition to cater for their needs and give them a realistic opportunity of silverware.
"What's proposed for next year is absolutely off the wall. How do I say, 'Hey lads, we're going to put in a huge effort and we're going to play in a qualifier system where there's no trophy for us, no nothing, other than it puts you in something for the following year'," Kelly told the Irish Independent.
"I'd have a strong thought on it having been involved with Kerry and Offaly, the top ten are gone a little bit ahead so let the top ten be grouped together and put in another championship beside it and give it the exposure that it deserves and play it the same day as the All-Ireland final.
"I see what the likes of Kerry put into it and even Meath aren't in that proposal which beggars belief. They're all finished hurling in May when the best hurling in the best weather is ready be played.
Let them play it alongside the Liam MacCarthy final. If you had a player from Kerry, Meath, Carlow or Laois, and they had the opportunity to play the same day as the All-Ireland final, it wouldn't be too hard to motivate them then.
"And if you're good enough to win that you earn the chance to compete with the bigger boys and that should be the way. Creating a round-robin competition with nothing to play for at the end of it is not the answer, it's crazy."
Kelly also suggests that with Leinster to consist of Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny, Offaly, and Wexford under the current plans, and Offaly easily the lowest-ranked of those sides, they should get the opportunity to join the 'B' campaign if they suffer relegation, which is likely to be followed by promotion again the following year.
"That's soul-destroying going up and down. Let's just say Offaly did go down, then let them go on and win that All-Ireland 'B' on the same day as the senior, and I know a lot of people in Offaly wouldn't be happy with saying that," he said.
"But from a players' point of view they have to have something to play for. They can win and come back up again. With the minor grade going, let those counties all get a chance to hurl in the summer when they should be hurling."
Kelly is readying his Laois charges for Sunday's preliminary qualifier against Christy Ring Cup champions Carlow but he must do so without Charles Dwyer who suffered a hamstring tear at the weekend and will miss out.
Experienced defender Cahir Healy may return, however, but Kelly acknowledges that it's a "50-50" game. "It'll push us all the way to get something out of the Carlow game because they're on a high, they're well-organised and hurling with a lot confidence."
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