Thursday 14 December 2017

Ulster vote vital to NHL format U-turn

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Ulster counties look to have the balance of power in tonight's vote to decide on the format for the Allianz NHL in 2012.

A hastily arranged Central Council meeting has fast-tracked the vote on whether to retain the leagues with eight-team divisions or to cut them to six and introduce quarter-finals.

The eight counties who would have formed Division 1 in 2012 have already met twice and have lobbied key officials to reverse the change made at August's Central Council meeting when two groups of six in Division 1 was voted in.

The eight counties believe they have sufficient support to reverse that decision, but know that the balance of power lies with Ulster counties, who are more football orientated.

An official from one of the eight counties lobbying for change speculated that attendance will be a key influence on the prospect for the change they seek.

With only one main topic on the agenda, some delegates may not be able to make a midweek evening meeting in Dublin. The eight counties who are driving the move to return the league to the 2011 format met again on Friday night in Thurles to reinforce their commitment to one, eight-team Division 1.

Some had expressed satisfaction with the 'quarter-final' compromise being proposed last week, but Friday night's meeting confirmed that there was still unity among them.

Cork, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford, Galway, Dublin, Limerick and Wexford are all concerned at the reduction in fixtures and the impact it will have on championship preparations and on finances, with less gate revenue and advertising opportunities.

Limerick, who gained promotion from Division 2, and Wexford, who fought valiantly to avoid relegation to Division 2, are the counties with the most to lose.

Limerick have already agreed to reserve the right not to participate in the 2012 league if it is not restored to an eight-team division.

A discussion at their last county board meeting gave officials the imprimatur to oppose the six-team divisions and take radical action if they deem it appropriate in the future.

Four of those eight counties who are voting in favour of reverting to an eight-team Division 1 reputedly voted for the abbreviated version at the August Central Council meeting.

Clare, Laois and Offaly are among those counties who will be supporting two groups of six teams in Division 1 tonight.

Two proposals will go before delegates tonight and both, it is understood, will require a two-thirds majority. The first is for the eight-team Division 1 to be restored, while the second is being seen as the compromise to resolve this -- two six-team divisions with quarter-finals and semi-finals.

Under that proposal, which is being tabled by the GAA's management committee, the top two in Division 1A would automatically qualify for the semi-finals, with the third and fourth-placed teams making quarter-finals along with the first and second teams in Division 1B.

Rather bizarrely, under this arrangement the second team in Division 1B could win the league title outright but still find themselves playing in Division 1B in 2013!

Under a six-team arrangement in each division, the league would not start until March and that would allow the inter-provincial championships and the Fitzgibbon Cup to be completed beforehand.

In making the proposal it was also felt that it would lead to more competitive games in both groups as the gap in standards between some of the teams would not be as great.

The hurling work group who proposed the original change are also keen for a new club league to take root next year for 'Tain' counties, which loosely describes hurling counties in the west and north of the country. If the league reverts to eight teams they don't believe this will be possible.

Meanwhile, an examination of the junior football and intermediate inter-county hurling championships is being conducted by the GAA.

It is understood that more Ulster counties are interested in participating in the Leinster junior championship next year.

Cavan played in the Leinster final last year, while Tyrone applied to Leinster after the draw had been made.

Derry and Armagh are among the counties thought to be interested in moving south. Ulster don't have a junior competition.

Many counties are keen to use their 'second strings' for the junior championship, but the GAA are keen to restore the competition to just players from intermediate and junior competitions where possible.

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