Players favour the open draw


DID anyone ask the players to contribute to the proposed hurling revolution? Or, probably more to the point, did they listen? If the players whispers had been heard, the likelihood is that something even more drastic the Open Draw would have been considered.

When the delegates to the GAA's Annual Congress in London this weekend debate the issue of allowing the beaten finalists. from the Leinster and Munster Senior Hurling Championships back into the All Ireland series, perhaps they should take on board some of the views expressed by some of the country's top players in a vox pop conducted by The Irish Times.

The quintet of players interviewed Anthony Daly (Clare), Terence "Sambo" McNaughton (Antrim), Michael Coleman (Galway), Tom Dempsey (Wexford) and Adrian Ronan (Kilkenny) are all passionate about their hurling, yet four of them are vehemently opposed to the new proposals which would give two of the beaten provincial finalists a second tilt at the Liam McCarthy Cup.

And Dempsey, the only one remotely in favour of the move, admits his motive is simply because of the frustrations which successive Wexford teams have experienced in Leinster finals over the years. "I probably wouldn't favour them if I knew we were going to win the Leinster title, because that would be the end of Kilkenny and Offaly for at least another year," he admitted.

Under the proposals advanced by the Hurling Development Committee, the delegates in the Royal Lancaster Hotel will vote to decide whether or not the defeated Leinster and Munster Finalists will be given entry to the All Ireland quarter finals.

"I think it is great that they are trying to further promote hurling something has to be done," said Ronan. "It is important that we have extra big games, but I think it makes a mockery of the championship to allow a situation where a losing team can still win the All Ireland. Is it fair? I don't think it is. Hurling is all about winning, and a team which loses should not get another chance.

If the proposals are adopted and, despite Offaly's decision to vote against them, there is a growing suspicion they might sneak through the really big losers would be the Ulster and Connacht teams, a la Antrim and Galway.

Not surprisingly, the views expressed from those camps by McNaughton and Coleman are against the proposals as they stand. Yet, the pair advocated a more drastic measure in the shape of the Open Draw, something which the HDC did not moot because they felt sufficient support would not be forthcoming.

It's crazy what they are proposing, insisted McNaughton. "I believe it would make a farce of the All Ireland championship to allow two teams who lost at provincial level back in. If you are beaten, you are beaten. However, I would be in favour of a seeded Open Draw, with, say, the eight Division One teams in the league, seeded into the second round."

While the Open Draw is not on the agenda and, in many ways is something of an idealistic pipe dream, it is interesting to discover that someone like Galway star Coleman, whose county generally have just one match to win to reach an All Ireland Final, would prefer that option than the one due to be debated over the weekend.

"I'd give the proposals the thumbs down," said Coleman.

"I'm not in favour of them. Imagine in Clare's case last year after winning Munster they had to face Tipperary or Cork again in the final and lost? I don't think it would be to their benefit, or to the benefit of teams like them, if the proposals went through."

I know people say Galway have it easy because we are virtually straight through to the All Ireland semi final every year. But it works both to our advantage and against us, because of the lack of games. I would much prefer to see an Open Draw in operation and let us have a real championship, and perhaps the Leinster and Munster championships could be run on another basis." said Coleman.

When Clare captain Daly marched up the steps of the Hogan Stand last September to collect the Liam McCarthy Cup, it sparked off the biggest party experienced west of the Shannon. His biggest concern, in actual fact is for the so called ordinary club hurler who has to be content with just one or two big games a year.

But Daly concurred something has to be done and, while he has his own views on the direction to take, he is of the opinion that any change is better than no change. l don't know if there is a great solution, but if this proposal is the catalyst if would serve a purpose.

"I wouldn't be entirely in favour of it now, though although we could well be glad of it in a few years time. My own preference would be for the Open Draw to be held as an experiment with the National League run as a Western Conference (including Munster teams and Galway) and an Eastern Conference (including Leinster teams along with Ant rim and Down) with the two winners playing off for the league title," said Daly.

No county has suffered as much in provincial finals in recent years as Wexford, whose last All Ireland Final appearance was in 1977. With either Kilkenny or Offaly acting as a locking ram to their ambitions for much of the past two decades, Wexford's Dempsey is perhaps more philosophical than moot about the proposed changes which would revolutionise hurling and offer more big games to fans during the summer.

"My preference would be for the Open Draw, but that is not going to happen in the foreseeable future so, I am all in favour of the changes which have been proposed. As things stand, Galway have it far too handy and I don't have any major problem with them being asked to play one of the beaten Munster or Leinster finalists in the quarter final," he said.

However, the decision making is out of the hands of the hurlers their role will simply be to do what they are told. The real power now rests with the delegates from, the 32 counties and the GAA's oversea's boards who will decide whether or not future senior hurling championships will provide a second bite of the cherry to the beaten Leinster and Munster finalists. It should provoke quite an amount of debate.