Leinster misgivings won't spark rethink
There will be no change to the format of the Leinster hurling championship next year despite growing misgivings over the new format, which will see a county relegated at the end of this season's campaign.
One from Galway, Dublin, Kilkenny, Offaly and Wexford will drop out of be replaced by the winners of the Joe McDonagh Cup, unless it's Kerry.
In that case, the Kingdom will play the lowest-placed in the Munster Championship to decide on relegation.
Antrim, Carlow, Kerry, Laois, Meath and Westmeath begin the Joe McDonagh Cup competition on the weekend after next.
The two finalists will enter the Liam MacCarthy Cup tier at the preliminary quarter-final stage, playing third-placed in Leinster and Munster.
Changes to the Leinster and Munster formats were agreed on a three-year trial basis at a Special Congress last September, despite opposition from several strong hurling counties, including Cork, Tipperary, Waterford and Dublin.
Kilkenny wanted a decision deferred until the end of this year.Despite the opposition, Congress voted in the new arrangement on a 62-38 per cent majority. Reports have emerged in recent weeks of tic-tacking between Leinster counties to see if there was any way of circumventing the relegation issue.
However, that would not be possible without calling another Special Congress, something that new president John Horan is unlikely to do.
It means that by June 9, two counties in the Leinster Championship will not only be eliminated from the All-Ireland race, one will also be out of next year's provincial campaign.
The bookies have Offaly as hot favourites for the drop, but it's not nearly as certain as the odds suggest.
Offaly beat Dublin by 13 points in the Allianz League in late January and ran Kilkenny to two points in the quarter-final last month, encouraging results that will boost confidence for Kevin Martin and his squad.
They begin their programme at home to Galway on May 12, followed by clashes with Kilkenny (away), Wexford (home) and Dublin (away).
There's a distinct possibility that the Offaly-Dublin clash in Parnell Park will decide the relegation issue, although no one can be certain whether the 'round robin' format will produce some surprise results.
Whichever of the five counties are relegated, it will be a significant setback and could even lead to players declining to join panels next year.
There's disquiet in some Leinster counties over the relegation rules that apply to their championship, as opposed to Munster where no team drops out automatically.
The only circumstances in which any of the top five would be relegated are if they lost to Kerry after the Kingdom had won the McDonagh Cup.
Effectively, there's a double-lock to prevent relegation in Munster, whereas it will apply automatically in Leinster every year.
Bizarrely, Leinster will find itself with only three 'local' teams playing in their championship next year if Antrim win the McDonagh Cup and, as expected, Galway finish in the top three. If Offaly are relegated this year, it will coincide with the 20th anniversary of their last All-Ireland victory, achieved in dramatic circumstances via the 'back door' after losing to Kilkenny in the Leinster final.
That was their fourth All-Ireland success in 19 seasons, a period in which they also won nine Leinster titles as well as their first League crown.
Dublin's status has dropped over the last few seasons, but they have enjoyed more recent success than Offaly, winning the 2011 Allianz League and 2013 Leinster titles.
Leinster SHC Round Robin 2018
May 12: Offaly v Galway, Tullamore;
May 13: Dublin v Kilkenny, Parnell Park.
May 20: Kilkenny v Offaly, Nowlan Park; Wexford v Dublin, Innovate Wexford Park.
May 26/27: Offaly v Wexford, Tullamore;
May 27: Galway v Kilkenny, Pearse Stadium; June 2/3: Wexford v Galway, Innovate Wexford Park;
June 3: Dublin v Offaly, Parnell Park.
June 9: Kilkenny v Wexford, Nowlan Park; Galway v Dublin, Pearse Stadium.