Round-robin the start of a brave new world for hurling
‘These are experiments, and if in three years’ time there’s a better way, we’ll be all for it’
The GAA doesn’t anticipate any turning back after the trial period for championship changes has concluded. Saturday’s decision to give the hurling championship a radical revamp came seven months after football introduced a similarly dramatic overhaul.
The experiment will run for three years but will be reviewed after two. GAA Director General Páraic Duffy said that the association had an open mind on how the changes would work but he didn’t envisage a reversion to the old system.
“I think we’ve always said, these are trials and nobody will feel the slightest bit put out if in three years’ time there’s a far better way of doing it. These are experiments, and if in three years’ time there’s a better way, we’ll be all for it.
“I’d be surprised if it’s the (old) status quo, I think it might be something different. For example we might look at tiered championships in football and stuff like that. I’d be surprised if we go back to the status quo, but it could happen. Clearly there’s a strong majority of over 60 per cent in favour of change in both football and hurling and that’s a good starting point.”
He said that work would begin immediately on a fixtures schedule for 2018.
“The next central council meeting is the last week in November and we have to present it at that meeting so the work will start now next week. It’s a little bit constrained until the draws are made on the 19th of October and the question then is asked about the provincial councils and how they are going to work the round-robins.”
As his term of office heads towards a conclusion, association president Aogán Ó Fearghail has presided over unprecedented change to the championship structures. He was asked were all the pieces of the jigsaw now in place to rationalise the intercounty calendar and create additional space for club fixtures.
“They’re never all in place, but certainly a substantial improvement. As Páraic was saying, there are issues and challenges, but we have made substantial progress. There are facts that are incontrovertible: there are now more weekends free for club, that’s a simple fact.
“If you’re going to start (intercounty championship) in May and finish in mid-August there are going to be an awful lot more (free) weekends.”
The changes were made in the teeth of opposition from most of the main hurling counties, a number of whom tabled motions of their own. Cork chair Ger Lane said that the new format would create difficulties especially for dual counties such as his own and Dublin. He also queried the need to change the provincial championships.
“It’s ironic that after one of the best Munster championship in a long time that this change comes in. You have five counties who are all capable of winning it and now you’re going into a round-robin situation. It’s going to be a changed championship, a changed GAA because people live for the Munster championship and now it’s going to be a different format. At the end of the day, democracy wins out, it got through today and we’re going to have to live with it.”
The congress rounded off a memorable year for Galway hurling. Having last month won the All-Ireland for the first time in 29 years, the county saw the next two items on its wish list ticked by delegates on Saturday.
Acceptance of the Central Council motion means that Galway will get to play two Leinster championship matches at home from next year whereas further decisions addressed the county’s long-standing desire for its underage teams to be integrated into the wider championship rather than having to enter the minor and under-21 championships at All-Ireland level with no provincial championship behind them.
Motion 9 was passed with 72 per cent support and provides for Galway and some Ulster counties to take part in the Leinster under-21 championship. This wasn’t popular with Leinster counties and Offaly even proposed a motion that Galway be funnelled into the Munster championship but this was defeated by more than two to one.
Galway’s minors will participate in a round-robin group of three together with the defeated Munster and Leinster finalists with the top two proceeding to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
The resolution of these issues was welcomed by the president. “It’s a very positive part of the whole package is Galway. If there is such a place as limbo, they were in it and now this has brought a lot of certainty.”
All-Ireland hurling championship 2018: How it will work
* It will be a five-tier competition: the existing MacCarthy, Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cups as well as a new, yet to be named Tier 2, which will slot in between the MacCarthy and Ring Cups.
* There will be additional fixtures with round-robin formats at all levels.
* The MacCarthy Cup will mainly consist of two provincial championships in Munster and Leinster, consisting of five-team groups and played on a round-robin basis.
* The top two counties in each group will meet in the provincial finals and the third placed teams will play the finalists from the Tier 2 championship, featuring Antrim, Carlow, Kerry, Laois, Meath, and Westmeath, for a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
* Provincial champions will proceed as currently to the All-Ireland semi-finals whereas the provincial finalists will contest quarter-finals against the winners of the play-off between third-place counties and the Tier 2 finalists.
* Fourth placed counties in either provincial group will go no farther in that season.
* The bottom paced county in Leinster will be relegated and replaced the following season by the Tier 2 winners unless the winners are Kerry in which case they will have a play-off with the bottom placed county in Munster.
* The All-Ireland final will be brought forward and is scheduled to be played on 19th August.