Central Council to discuss plans for new hurling championship structure


For the second time in as many months the GAA’s Central Council will try to agree a new hurling championship structure – and may also find themselves revisiting their new sideline regulation, which is already causing some concern.

Two proposals for a new hurling championship, to take effect from 2014, went to last month’s Central Council meeting, but agreement couldn’t be reached: instead, they’ll convene again this Saturday, the meeting brought forward from February to ensure sufficient time to draft the successful motion for Congress, set for the late March.

“What is clear is that all Central Council are voting on here is what motion will go to Congress,” says Feargal McGill, GAA head of games administration, “because whatever proposal is voted in, must still be approved by Congress too”.

What happened last month was that both proposals effectively got equal support.

The first proposal, from the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC), is essentially looking to retain the Munster championship, while five teams in Leinster – Kilkenny, Dublin, Wexford, Offaly and Galway – will be joined by two “qualifiers”, to be decided by a round-robin competition, involving Laois, Antrim, Carlow, Westmeath and London. This blueprint would also see the current 15-team senior championship reduced incrementally to 13 by 2016.

More radical

The second proposal, developed by the Hurling Development Work Group, is the more radical, essentially made up of three separate groups, from Munster, Leinster, plus a third tier, each of which would be first played off on a round-robin basis. Yet given the already tight schedule it’s unlikely this proposal will get the necessary support.

However, last month, Central Council couldn’t make their minds up either way, voting 17-17. GAA president Liam O’Neill: “They got equal votes, that wasn’t a mandate, and unfortunately a significant number of Central Council delegates didn’t vote, because they hadn’t discussed it.

“The unfortunate thing is the new championship proposals only really matter to five or six counties. The top counties don’t think it will really matter to them, and very bottom ones don’t think so either. So we asked everyone to go home again, discuss it, come back with a mandate, and hopefully then we can make a definite decision on it this time.”

Dublin County Board chairman Andy Kettle (who also serves as the county’s Central Council delegate) admitted that agreeing the new hurling championship structure was the priority, but of equal concern was the decision made by Central Council last month to reduce the numbers permitted in the sideline area from 12 to five, and also defining the area in which a manager can move to within a 20-metre strip.

Too restrictive

Designed to avoid confrontations between rival managers and selectors, an area of concern highlighted by O’Neill, Kettle believes the new regulation is too restrictive, especially that all county board officials are now confined to either the stands or assigned dug out, and no longer permitted to be on the sidelines either.

“There is quite a debate about these numbers permitted on the sideline,” said Kettle, “both inside and outside the county. I’ve had communication from other county chairs, expressing unease with the proposal. The original proposal was for seven but at the last minute it was reduced to five. I’d be happy if was seven, once it involved a county board representative. So I do think it is something that needs to be looked at again.

“I actually spoke about it at last Central Council meeting, that I had no problem with county chairmen going off, because it’s not the best place to see a game anyway. But it is necessary for communication, that there is a representative from county board on the sideline.

“The idea of not having selectors together creates a lot of debate too, whether it be together on the sideline or together in the stand. Because with the exception of Croke Park, there are very few grounds that have the facility to take the management crews up in the stand.

“Having only one water carrier would be another concern, at the height of summer anyway. My understanding was that medical advice indicated four were needed. Now has medical advice changed, or what is the story going to be there?”

There was, at least, agreement last month on what motion would go to Congress with regard to the proposed hurling league structures: three options were considered, but Central Council agreed to retain the current six-team format in Divisions One A and One B, but with the addition of quarter-finals (with the top four teams in either division being drawn against each other in quarter-finals, on a seeded basis).

* Johnny McCaffrey (25) from Lucan Sarsfields has been reappointed Dublin senior hurling captain.

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