New era for hurling as GAA pass motion to restructure Championship
A new hurling landscape has been voted in by a GAA Special Congress that will see the Munster and Leinster Championships played off on a round robin basis for the next three years.
The Central Council motion, which will increase the number of MacCarthy Cup games and introduce a new tier between MacCarthy Cup and Ring Cups as they exist for six counties - Laois, Antrim, Westmeath, Carlow, Meath and Kerry - was carried by 62 per cent of the 153 delegates present.
Had the original requirement for a two-thirds majority been in place the motion would have failed but change last February has kicked in with real impact here.
A number of motions relating to restructuring the Hurling Championships were up for discussion with dual Munster counties most opposed to what Central Council was proposing.
After a vote to decide which motion to put forward for a straight vote the Central Council was left standing with 90 of the 153 votes.
An amendment to allow the finalists of the tier two competition to play in a preliminary MacCarthy Cup quarter-final against the provincial final losers was carried by 87 per cent of delegates.
In moving the Central Council motion, calling for two five-team round robin provincial championships, Connacht GAA president Mick Rock said it would bring certainty to club fixtures across the country.
"The implications will trickle down to all tiers, eventually to every club in the country," he said.
"Five tiers more accurately reflects the strengths of competing counties than the present system does.
"It's part of a sequence that, incrementally, the association has been trying to arrive at. This would be another big step," he predicted.
"Not one bit in this motion that will diminish the excitement of the concluding stages of the championship," predicted Rock while also suggesting that, with the top three teams playing for something meaningful in each province in addition to relegation, the prospect of dead rubbers is limited.
Rock pointed out that a similar plan was floated by the Hurling Development Committee in 2012 but this had got "added impetus" after the football changes earlier this year.
"It's no knee-jerk reaction but it's time to take that leap of faith again for three years."
Cork had called for MacCarthy Cup status quo to remain with All-Ireland round robin quarter-finals involving eight teams pitched for July.
Secretary Frank Murphy outlining the advantages.
"It retains successful provincial championships, gives equal status to hurling at quarter-final level and it ensures longer participation for eight counties.
"It reduces the risk of traditional counties being relegated and the deflationary impact of that," he said.
"It also allows summer space for clubs," said Murphy, pointing out that the Central Council proposal was "inadequate" for larger dual counties like theirs.
Murphy said it made more sense to have extra hurling games at the same time as the additional All-Ireland football quarter-finals that are in place from 2018 to 2020.
"As provincial champions, we are prepared to play in an All-Ireland quarter-final. A five-week break to an All-Ireland semi-final (for provincial champions) is not good.
"There will be irreparable damage to provincial championships that have served this association well. That damage may never be repaired," he warned.
Tipperary secretary Tim Floyd warned against the damage the Central Council motion would have on the Allianz league and the summer club schedule.
Tipp were proposing a back door at provincial championship stage that would still leave room to play club fixtures between May and July.
"We have 4,000 adult players in Tipperary, 35 of them are inter-county players. That's just two per cent. Hurling is a summer game for all players, not just inter-county players."
A Dublin motion seeking to bring the provincial champions back in at All-Ireland quarter-final stage was proposed by chairman Sean Shanley who cited pressure as clubs as their reason for opposing.
GPA chief executive Dermot Earley reminded delegates that 70 per cent of existing Liam MacCarthy Cup squads were in favour of the Central Council motion but support beneath that was more mixed.
A call from Kilkenny chairman Ned Quinn to put off a decision on reform for 12 months ago, to observe how the football changes impact, was rejected.
Quinn's position had some support from former president and fellow county man Nickey Brennan who felt there wasn't enough "engagement" with hurling counties on this issue.
Brennan said he would lean towards the Dublin motion but only if the carrot of a home quarter-final for provincial champions was introduced.
Somewhat alarmingly Waterford chairman Paddy Joe Ryan suggested that passing the Central Council motion would be the "worst decision in the history of GAA if it happened."
He said it was "riddled with uncertainties" and asked "why are we trying to ram something down that hurling counties don't want.
"We see merit in the Dublin, Cork and Tipperary motions but keep what we have until we get something better."
Offaly chairman Tommy Byrne warned that if his county lost their MacCarthy Cup status they would find it even more difficult to attract players to inter-county squads.