Tuesday 12 December 2017

Martin Breheny: Galway problems lie much closer to home

Galway's Joe Canning in action during his team's
Leinster SHC defeat to Dublin earlier this year
Galway's Joe Canning in action during his team's Leinster SHC defeat to Dublin earlier this year
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

WHEN experienced and intelligent hurling people suggest dismantling a platform which has underpinned the game for well over a century it deserves reflection, if not automatic agreement.

It's against that background that the call from a review group in Galway -- headed by former GAA president Joe McDonagh -- for a switch to an open draw championship should be considered.

The group also includes Cyril Farrell, Conor Hayes, Pete Finnerty, Sean Silke and Ollie Canning, men not given to fanciful flights, but who feel that the current championship format is not fit for purpose. They don't specify exactly how a new open draw championship would work, presumably because there are various options to work off if the Munster and Leinster campaigns were removed as the core pillars of the All-Ireland campaign.

It's not the first time that this proposal has emerged, although it has rarely been discussed in a reasoned manner because of the emotion it generates.

The Munster Council, in particular, would regard the dissolution of their championship as an appalling act of treachery and while Leinster might be less strident, it's still unlikely they would buy into such dramatic change either.

After all, they have opened their doors to Galway and Antrim seniors and believe that's a sufficiently big contribution for now. They would also share Munster's view that an open draw championship would seriously erode the stature of provincial councils.

And while Galway's suggestion applies only to hurling, how long before a similar proposal emerged for football? The provincial councils depend essentially on their senior championships for revenue which is why they will not support any radical change that weakens their position.

In those circumstances, the Galway proposal is unlikely to clear many hurdles. It's unfortunate that it won't get a serious airing if only to measure the arguments. Personally I would be opposed to their submission. Indeed, I'm surprised that the call has emerged from Galway so soon after their move to Leinster.

Galway completed their third season in the Leinster senior championship this year, a period which hasn't been as productive as they would have hoped for.

They have reached just one of three finals and suffered comprehensive defeats by Kilkenny last season and Dublin this year. Surely, then, the aim should be to win at least one Leinster title before advocating change.

The current system may not be perfect, but it's still attractive to the public and the players. Removing the Munster and Leinster championships from the equation leaves the All-Ireland as the only summer/autumn prize, so how could that be good for hurling?

The Munster championship, in particular, continues to draw very large crowds, but would the turn-out be the same in an open-draw format, especially if it involved round-robin games? The answer is an emphatic 'no'.

Dismantling the provincial championships would be a very risky business and, frankly, is unnecessary now that Galway and Antrim are in Leinster. There are still some in Galway who believe they should not have joined Leinster in any grade, while the majority remain opposed to moving the U-21s and minors across the Shannon.

Mind you, there are several Leinster counties who don't want Galway's big underage cuckoo arriving in their nest and gobbling up a disproportionate amount of the food.

It's not an issue for now, but clearly the seniors' long-term future in Leinster is not guaranteed either against a background where a group of heavy-hitters like Joe McDonagh and Co want a fundamental change to the championship system.

Galway's tenure in Leinster is up for review at the end of 2013 with both sides examining how it has worked for them. If they are to stay there, Galway will be looking for full Leinster status, including staging games at Pearse Stadium, a facility which does not form part of the current agreement.

It's a reasonable request to which Leinster would almost certainly agree, although it remains to be seen if the dynamic of the east-west relationship changes now that Galway are seeking a complete overhaul of the championship format.

Quite why they're doing that escapes me. Playing in Leinster offers them the same opportunity as all other counties and one would have thought that bringing the Bob O'Keeffe Cup across the Shannon would be the top priority for now.

Calling for an open draw All-Ireland merely adds to the uncertainty, even if there is little chance of it coming to pass in the foreseeable future. Frankly, Galway would be better off concentrating on rising to a level where they are again competitive on the All-Ireland stage rather than seeking another change.

Without an All-Ireland senior semi-final appearance since 2005, their status has declined alarmingly and no amount of tricking with the championship system will alter that stark reality. The change Galway now need is in their own game and not in a championship system which actually works quite well, not least in terms of public interest.

Irish Independent

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