Calendar reform will be affected if special congress motions fail
Even at lower weighted majority of 60% no hurling reforms can be certain of success
Rory Whelan (14) from Fethard-on-Sea, Co Wexford, with Dublin All-Ireland winning players Lyndsey Davey, Rebecca McDonnell, Lauren Magee, Hannah O’Neill and Emily Flanagan during the champions’ visit to Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin. Photograph: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
With every chance that Saturday’s special congress in Croke Park might approve none of the proposals before delegates, the GAA’s plans to reform the season could be affected.
Although the final shape of the 2018 calendar is dependent on the weekend’s outcome, should the hurling season revert to default with no change, plans to clear nearly all of April for club activity would be compromised by the Leinster round-robin pre-qualifying competition, which takes place in that month.
Complicating the situation for the Central Council proposals, which envisage a round-robin format in both Leinster and Munster provincial championships, is the submission of several other motions by a number of counties. This increases the likelihood of none gaining acceptance.
Although last February’s annual congress accepted a motion to reduce the necessary majority for rule change from two-thirds to three-fifths, 60 per cent is still a daunting standard to have to reach.
There will be a general debate on the motions before voting takes place, with an attempt to establish a consensus preference before passing judgment on individual proposals.
The different perspectives on the proposed changes are clear enough, and although it is possible that Tipperary might support the Central Council motion if theirs falls, there is felt to be more rigid opposition from others tabling alternatives, chiefly Cork, Dublin and the weaker Leinster counties, Offaly, Laois and Meath – who are looking to have a route into the same season’s MacCarthy Cup for the Tier 2 finalists.
There are definite advantages for other counties in the Central Council motion in that the format will see two home matches built into the championship whereas at present Clare and Waterford virtually never get home advantage and even Limerick, who do, are known to be anxious to play more regularly in the Gaelic Grounds.
All-Ireland champions Galway are more likely to be swayed given that as things stand they have been allowed to play no matches outside of Leinster since joining the provincial championship eight years ago.
Yet the sense around the counties is that the Central Council proposal will struggle to get approval and that the options are even less likely to find favour.
One of the arguments heard is that the idea of the round-robin format was produced too hastily in response to concerns expressed that the football experiment, which begins next year – and which the weekend’s proposals are hoping to parallel over the experimental period up until 2020 – would “overshadow” the hurling championship.
Central Council has also been blind-sided a little by the fact that some counties, which supported the idea when it was unveiled at last May’s meeting, are now considered unlikely to vote in favour.
Kilkenny – whose delegate did not support the idea in May – have taken a cautious stance, wanting to see how the football round-robin works out before committing the hurling champions to a similar format even on an experimental basis.
Croke Park sources accept that the momentum for change has not been helped by what was a lively championship this summer with a unique final and champions who bridged a lengthy gap to their previous success.
It is unlikely that the arguments for reform will die away but they may have to wait a while longer before being embraced.
Motion 2: From Central Council, proposing two five-team round-robin formats in the Leinster and Munster championships with the top two contesting the provincial final and the third-placed proceeding to All-Ireland quarter-finals with defeated provincial finalists. It also proposes a Tier 2 championship for the next six counties with relegation and promotion.
Motion 3: Tipperary propose a variation of the Munster minor championships format with a knock-out and losers’ group format rather than a round-robin in the provinces.
Motion 4: Dublin want to reinstate the eight-team All-Ireland quarter-finals from 10 years ago with no other major changes.
Motions 5 and 7: From Cork, this seeks to replicate the All-Ireland football championship format from next year by running a round-robin format for the last eight of the hurling championship. It is also proposed that no Munster counties be relegated from the MacCarthy Cup, and that should Kerry be promoted that the county compete in Leinster, as was the case this year.