Friday 15 December 2017

Uproar as hurling revamp gets green light

Frank Murphy, Secretary of the Cork County Board, speaking during a GAA Special Congress at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Frank Murphy, Secretary of the Cork County Board, speaking during a GAA Special Congress at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

The traditional hurling counties suffered a stunning rebuke at yesterday's GAA Special Congress when despite their dire warnings about the implications of the new-look All-Ireland championship, delegates backed the plan - albeit narrowly.

So for the next three seasons, there will be a round-robin series of games in the Munster and Leinster championships. The 10 competing counties - five in each province - are guaranteed a total of four games, two of which will be at home.

The counties are Galway, Kilkenny, Wexford, Dublin, Offaly (in Leinster) and Waterford, Tipperary, Clare, Limerick and Cork (in Munster). There are doubts, however, about whether Waterford's Walsh Park can host a championship game for the first time since 1996.

Delegates overwhelmingly backed a motion sponsored by Laois, Offaly and Meath to allow two teams from Tier 2 to compete in the Liam MacCarthy Cup as well.

GAA director general Paraic Duffy revealed after the Congress that the 2018 All-Ireland hurling final will be played on August 19. There will be an earlier start to the National League and it is envisaged that April will be left free for club fixtures.

There will be five tiers in the new-look championship - the MacCarthy, Ring, Mackey and Meagher cups together with a yet-to-be-named Tier 2 competition in which Antrim, Carlow, Kerry, Laois, Meath and Westmeath will compete.

All competitions will be run on a round-robin format and there will be promotion and relegation between competitions. Furthermore, All-Ireland hurling champions Galway will finally have a home game in the championship.

Following the completion of the round-robin series in Munster and Leinster, the top two teams will compete in their respective provincial finals, with the winners advancing directly to the All-Ireland semi-finals, and the beaten finalists guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals, as is currently the case.

The third-placed teams in each province will remain in the Liam MacCarthy Cup. They will be drawn against the two finalists in the Tier 2 competition, with the winners advancing to the last six in the All-Ireland series.

The eventual winners of the Tier 2 competition will be promoted to the Leinster Championship in 2019, with the bottom team in the Leinster round-robin next year being relegated.

However, in the event of Kerry - the only Munster team in Tier 2 - winning the competition, they will meet the bottom team in the Munster round-robin competition, with the winners advancing to the Munster Championship proper in 2018.

An attempt by Cork to drop this provision was overwhelmingly beaten.

Cork argued in favour of the retention of the current format for the provincial series, with a Super 8 format similar to football for the All-Ireland series.

Veteran official Frank Murphy said it made more sense to have extra hurling games at the same time as the additional games in football were being played.

"It reduces the risk of traditional counties being relegated and the deflationary impact of that. It also allows summer space for club. There will be irreparable damage to provincial championships," he said.

Tipperary's Tim Flood said hurling was a summer game for all players, not just inter-county players, and pointed out that only two per cent of the 4,000 adult players in Tipperary are inter-county players. Tipp proposed a back-door provincial championship that would leave room to play club fixtures between May and July.

Waterford chairman Paddy Joe Ryan said clubs in the county were opposed to the new structure. He argued that it was "riddled with uncertainties" and he warned that it would be "the worst decision in the history of the GAA if it happened".

But the widespread support for the Central Council proposal outside the traditional hurling counties was reflected in the 62-38 per cent vote in favour. Bizarrely, eight delegates abstained.

Were it not for a rule tweak at Congress earlier this year which saw the weight of vote needed to change a rule reduced from two-thirds to 60 per cent, the proposal would have failed.

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