Winter hurling ended for trial period


THE GAA has decided to scrap winter League hurling for a two-year trial period. Saturday's Central Council meeting decided to accept the need for the National Hurling League to be played in a calendar year. The margin was 23 votes to 15.

The initiative is in line with the recommendations of the hurling development committee (HDC) and the second half of its reform package which includes the championship provisions accepted by Congress last month.

It now remains for Central Council to decide whether to accept the full recommendation that the League run through the summer with the final in the autumn, or to decide that it should conclude in May before the championship starts. A straw poll indicated the narrowest of preferences for autumn.

The Games Administration Committee will meet with both the hurling development committee and the provincial councils, then report back to Central Council before the final decision is made.

Otherwise, Central Council decided to allow clubs to benefit from sponsorship deals with alcohol companies, thus opening the way for Dublin club St Vincent's agreement with Beamish and Crawford to proceed.

The GAA's director general, Liam Mulvihill, reported on negotiations with RTE for the television rights to championship matches. He said that broadcasting would not go ahead until a contract was signed.

Two items are holding up a conclusion. The more important of them, according to Mulvihill, is the GAA's insistence on a midweek programme dedicated to Gaelic games. Finance is also an issue but not considered as great a problem.

Last year the championship season was broadcast on an ad hoc basis as no formal agreement was reached. This year's three-year contract will be retrospective, meaning that it will run for only another two years before renegotiation.

But the main focus of the council meeting was on the proposed hurling changes where there were broad coalitions for both sides of the argument with the stronger counties marginally more opposed. Limerick, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Clare, Derry and Meath all spoke against whereas Cork, Galway, Wexford, Waterford, Monaghan, Kerry, Louth and Dublin spoke in favour.

In general the arguments raised by those in favour of the proposal related to the League's falling attendances, declining public interest and the inappropriate weather for hurling. Opposition speakers cent red on disruption to club fixtures and the burden placed on players during the summer months.

Frank Murphy, secretary of the HDC, said that it wasn't the first time Central Council had asked for an investigation into the timing of games and in recommending the calendar year, the committee was mindful of "the recent host of requests for postponement of League matches in October and public interest in those rounds of the competition". Matches at that time of the year, he said, "are not productive and not promotional."

Furthermore he pointed out that the autumn would now be clear for club, colleges and other matches, such as the Oireachtas tournament.

In answer to objections based on the impact on clubs, he said: "In May, June and July you can count on the fingers of one hand the counties who will stage a single championship match." Congress, he said "took courageous decisions on the championship and Central Council can do the same".

Paddy Ryan, Limerick delegate, said the proposal would seriously restrict players at inter-county. "If they go out of the National League in spring and the championship in early summer, they'll have no matches for a long time."

He answered the suggestion that matches could be played midweek: "Imagine players working in Dublin and further afield. They would be playing at night and facing a long journey back for the morning." Furthermore, the loss of challenge matches, common at this time of the year, would hit the revenue of clubs which often staged them for pitch-openings and fund-raisers.

Noel Morris, Tipperary delegate, said the proposal cut across club competition and the club was the association's basic unit. He also blamed high admission prices for falling attendances.

Tom Ryall, Kilkenny delegate, asked where the time would be found for club competitions if the proposals were accepted. Mickey Moran, Derry, said that the proposal would result in the death of hurling in the county.

Seamus O'Brien, Waterford delegate, repeated that counties would still be playing only seven matches, hurling would be played in better weather and October would be free for county championships.

Bob Honohan, Cork, said that his county had heavy dual activity but was willing to give the proposals a trial. Tony O'Keeffe, Kerry, said that his county's hurlers lacked experience of summer conditions and good ground and that the proposal would help address that.

Frank Burke, Galway, answered the club-based argument by saying: "Unless we have the personnel to handle this sort of challenge, we're doomed anyway.