Westmeath in last-chance saloon
WESTMEATH hurlers are facing a desperate last-ditch struggle to avoid being dumped out of next year's Leinster and All-Ireland senior hurling championships.
They need to beat London in the final round of group games next Sunday to have any chance of avoiding the drop, but even if they win, they won't be guaranteed a place in the race for the Liam MacCarthy Cup next year.
Instead, they would have to beat the Christy Ring Cup winners in a play-off to decide who remains in the top flight.
Westmeath are pointless after three group games, with London on one point, Carlow on three from four games, while Laois and Antrim lead the way on six points.
Carlow will also be in danger of dropping out of the Leinster and All-Ireland championships next year if London beat Westmeath in Mullingar next Sunday.
That result would leave Carlow playing the Christy Cup Ring Cup winners to decide who stays in the top flight.
If London lose next Sunday, they will be relegated. A draw would earn them a play-off against the Christy Ring Cup winners.
It's all part of the plan to reduce the number of counties competing for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
If results over the next few weeks go against Westmeath and Carlow both would be out of the Leinster championship next year while London and Antrim would remain.
It would be a clear anomaly if two counties from Leinster were barred from their own provincial championship while three outsiders (Galway, Antrim, London) were admitted but, as the system stands, that's a possibility.
There's also an interesting sub-plot attached to next Sunday week's Leinster quarter-finals, involving Galway, Wexford, Laois and Antrim.
The pairings will be decided by the result of the Laois v Antrim clash in Portlaoise next Sunday.
If Laois draw or win, they will play Wexford while Antrim face Galway. An Antrim win would then lead to them playing Wexford, while Laois would play Galway.
Both games will be played in Portlaoise, which is a lucky break for Laois. Indeed, if they were to beat Wexford or Galway, they would be promoted out of the group games next year and replaced by one of the latter two.
Similarly, if Antrim beat Galway or Wexford, they will qualify automatically for the Leinster quarter-finals next year, leaving Galway or Wexford in the group qualifier games.