Sunday 19 January 2020

Mixed reaction to Galway plan for hurling revamp

Martin Breheny , in San Francisco

GALWAY'S proposal to change the All-Ireland hurling format to an open draw or Champions League-style group system has met with mixed reaction from prominent figures in Munster and Leinster who are on the GAA All Stars tour to San Francisco.

Tipperary half-back Padraic Maher and new Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald oppose the idea but the Hurler of the Year, Kilkenny midfielder Michael Fennelly, believes it has merit.

A high-powered Galway committee, chaired by former GAA president Joe McDonagh, has proposed a move away from the current two-province system for the hurling championship, suggesting that it would invigorate the competition and provide a more even base for all the participants.

However, the appeal of the Munster championship has convinced Maher and Fitzgerald that hurling would not be well served by a system where the All-Ireland title was the only prize on offer for the campaign.

"I love the Munster championship. Going down to places like Pairc Ui Chaoimh is great for Tipperary players and Cork coming to Thurles creates a great buzz," said Maher.

"So do all the other games with Limerick, Clare and Waterford. There's something special about them for players and the fans love them as well. With Galway and Antrim playing in Leinster now, it's very competitive there too. Personally, I'd like to see the championship stay as it is."

He is supported by Fitzgerald, who believes it would a big mistake to drop the Munster and Leinster championships as part of the All-Ireland series.

"I don't agree with Galway's proposal at all. I'm a bit surprised by it because I think their move into Leinster is working well," he said. "As for the Munster championship -- and I know what I'm talking about from personal experience -- it's special and I would hate to see it downgraded in any way.

"To this day, I would always say that winning the 1995 Munster final was my special moment in the game. And as a manager, winning the Munster title with Waterford was something I will never forget either.

"The Munster championship is huge with the public, so why change something that draws 30 or 40 thousand people and builds up such a great atmosphere? How do we know that replacing it with something else would work? We have a good system now and I can't see the logic in changing it."

However, Fennelly believes that a move to a Champions League-style championship is worth experimenting with. He also considers the Leinster championship to be stronger than its Munster counterpart since the arrival of Galway and Antrim.

"There's no doubt that Galway and Antrim playing in Leinster is a big plus but we still have only two provinces involved in the All-Ireland race so opening it up might be a good idea," he said. "It would be very exciting to have teams from Leinster and Munster playing each other early on in the championship. Imagine Kilkenny going down to Waterford or Waterford coming up to Nowlan Park. Those type of games would be happening all over the place, which would be good for hurling. Maybe it should be tried as an experiment for a few years."

Fennelly also believes that the current league and championship system offers too few games, a scenario which will be even more pronounced next year when counties will be guaranteed only five Allianz League games as opposed to seven up to now.

"Playing games is what it's all about," he said. "For all the training players do, there are relatively few games. I think the players and the public would like to see more games, which would also be good for the promotion of hurling."

Irish Independent

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