2014 target for hurling format changes


THE GAA hopes the hurling competition proposals released yesterday for discussion will be adopted for a reasonable length of time. The proposed structures for league and championship have been brought forward by the Central Competitions Control Committee and will be debated by Central Council tomorrow fortnight.

Both sets of proposals prioritise providing a pathway for counties to progress to higher levels of competition but only if they manage to win their way up the ranks.

Interestingly, the CCCC appear to have focused most attention on how to deal with the situation facing the twilight zone counties – caught between the MacCarthy and Ring Cups, not good enough for the former and too good for the latter.

Should they be accepted, the championship proposals will go forward to annual congress as motions and if passed, will be implemented for the 2014 season. One of the three suggested league options needs only to be accepted by Central Council to come into force, also in 2014.

Feargal McGill, GAA head of games administration and a member of the CCCC, is hopeful the blueprint can provide stability for hurling competitions in the medium and long term.

“We think this would last for quite some time,” he told The Irish Times. “We acknowledge that you can’t chop and change all the time.”

The CCCC was addressing a number of issues in respect of the championship. One is the the MacCarthy Cup, which has grown in recent years (“to an unrealistic level from a competitiveness point of view,” according to the proposals), with no relegation from the top tier.

The blueprint would see the current 15-team field reduced incrementally to 13 by 2016 through the introduction in 2014 of a “qualifying group” for Antrim, Laois, Carlow, Westmeath and London.

Playing on a round-robin basis, the top two counties in the group would progress to the Leinster championship; the bottom side would be relegated and the second-last would play the Ring Cup winners for MacCarthy Cup status in 2015.

Win your way up

According to McGill, “It’s incorporating the principle of ‘win your way up’. We felt that over a period of time it would lead to teams getting stronger and putting in the work, doing the development, eventually being rewarded by making their way to the MacCarthy Cup and getting an opportunity.

“There’s almost a limbo between Christy Ring and Liam MacCarthy and that is recognised by the qualifying group, the round-robin aspect of the championship.

“This achieves a couple of things: it gives those counties who aren’t able to compete with the top 10 a chance, a) to play competitive games against each other and b) a chance to progress beyond that and test themselves at a higher level.”

Three options concerning the National League will go to Central Council. Two are based on the current six-team format in Divisions One A and One B, which would be as the status quo – ordered on a hierarchical basis.

The other would restore the previous eight-team format, which will appeal to some of the counties in Division One B and also to those in One A who are concerned about the shorter schedules of matches.

“There were two obvious complaints that we’ve heard from counties and indeed from commentators,” said McGill. “One is the fact that there are only five games guaranteed in a six-team group and that can mean two at home.

“Kilkenny is a prominent example in the coming league: as All-Ireland champions, they will have two home games in Nowlan Park – just two home games of any importance in 2013.

“Now, that’s not great from a promotional perspective so we looked at improving that.

“The second complaint most commonly heard from counties in Division One B – and hurling commentators – was ‘is it great preparation for championship, playing at a certain level in the league and then having to face Tipperary, Kilkenny or Galway?’

“So we felt the introduction of quarter-finals guarantees every county in One A and One B six games as opposed to five.”

The difference between the two six-team proposals is that in one case the format used this year by which the winners on Division One B were both promoted and admitted to the Division One semi-finals is again offered.

The other sees a more complicated format, with the top four teams in either division being drawn against each other in quarter-finals on a seeded basis.

CCCC Hurling proposals Key points

2014 Championship

MacCarthy Cup to be reduced to 13 counties by 2016.

Promotion from Christy Ring Cup to be dependent on a play-off between winners and a MacCarthy Cup county.

Qualifier group to be played on a round-robin basis between the five lowest-ranked MacCarthy Cup counties (Antrim, Laois, Carlow, Westmeath and London), with top two progressing to senior championship.

Similar structures to govern movement between the other championship tiers – Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups.

2014 National League

Three options to go before Central Council.

Two involve six-team formats in Divisions One A and One B with either quarter-finals or semi-finals to follow the regulation season.

There is also the option of an eight-team Division One with top four contesting play-offs and bottom county playing Division Two winners in a relegation play-off.

Full details of the proposals for the Championship and the National Hurling League can be found on www.irishtimes.com

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