As the dust settles on GAA Congress’ momentous decision to scrap the All-Ireland senior football quarter-finals in favour of two round-robin groups, the hurling community has spoken out seeking a similar set-up.
Tony Kelly is open to scrapping the Munster championship; Ger Loughnane feels hurling could be left behind; and Eddie Brennan wants a more attractive competition to promote hurling.
This column, as already stated, is not an advocate of the new football format and believe Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s Spanish club Levante comparison doesn’t wash. Levante get 38 games in their premier competition, the same as Barcelona or Real Madrid. Counties like Antrim and Wicklow are only guaranteed two matches while provincial winners will be handed three more.
But for three years, the new format is in and its reception will dictate its longevity so the time has come to look how a hurling format could work out.
As the provincial football championships are going to remain, there’s no reason to dispatch the Leinster or Munster Hurling Championships.
As there are only two provincial competitions in hurling, should the winners and runners-up qualify for the final eight and be joined by four qualifiers, dates in the calendar can surely be found to allow these teams battle for All-Ireland semi-final spots.
Eight teams competed in the 2016 qualifiers but if joined by the two Christy Ring finalists plus the third and fourth teams in the Leinster round-robin group, that would leave 12 teams. The provincial semi-finalists could be seeded in the second round leaving four winners to join the ‘Super 8’.
Should this have occurred last year, the two groups would have looked appealing. Kilkenny, Waterford, Limerick and Cork battling in Group A. Tipperary, Galway, Clare and Wexford facing off in Group B.
What this does for hurling in Dublin, Laois, Offaly or Westmeath is hard to know. But with football introducing a ‘Champions League’ style tournament from 2018, nobody in hurling circles will gain if they don’t get their own version!