DAMIAN LAWLOR – 03 NOVEMBER 2013
CARLOW and Westmeath have less than two weeks to convince the GAA hierarchy that their alternative National Hurling League proposal should be adopted.
The two counties have been working for the past three weeks to get Croke Park to let their senior teams back into hurling’s elite by extending next year’s league format from a top 12 to a ‘Super 14’ system.
Their proposal, which was sent to every county board chairman in the past few days, will now come under consideration at Central Council’s meeting on November 16, following which a draw for the 2014 competition will be made.
“We have received good feedback to our proposal,” says Michael Meaney, chairman of Carlow. “Two leading officials from the so-called top 12 counties already contacted me to indicate they will support us, and we would envisage that the other counties at Christy Ring level and below will do likewise, for they could be in the same situation themselves soon.
“But we have a lot of lobbying to do,” he insists. “Our proposals have a good chance but it will be hard to sway people.
“We had to try something, though. Since 2008, we have really been doing our utmost to promote hurling. We are one of the few remaining so-called ‘weaker’ counties that are trying to keep both codes alive. We feel that including ourselves and Westmeath in the new structure will be a perfect fit.
“The GAA maintain that they have to draw the line somewhere and that’s fair enough. But beneath us, every other team bar London is not involved in the Liam MacCarthy Cup. And London are happy enough with their present league status, so it’s a natural move that 14 Liam MacCarthy teams are included in the new system.
“We have to convince others of that now, but we’re going to try hard. Way too much work has been invested here to boost hurling.
“We lost four Division 1B games by very, very narrow margins this spring, we pushed Wexford hard in the qualifiers, beat Dublin in the under 21 championship and now we want stability. We won’t get that by reverting back to what is essentially a third-tier league grouping.
“We want to drive on with what we have achieved to date, to see the likes of Clare coming to Dr Cullen Park. Imagine what that would do for this county?”
Last Tuesday, at a meeting of counties outside the top 12, it was stated that the 12-team format, written up by Monaghan native Michael Burns, would be the only suggestion up for decision. But since then the Carlow-Westmeath plan has been circulated, with a group of county board chairmen meeting at Croke Park yesterday morning to discuss the matter further.
Central to the Carlow-Westmeath document is their inclusion among the third seeds along with Offaly, Wexford, Antrim and Laois. In essence, the C tier would be enhanced by two, meaning that the 14 teams would be divided into two groups of seven.
“It’s very similar to the proposal that Michael Burns made in the first instance,” Meaney says. “Each side would play every other in their section, a total of six games, as well as two teams of their own grade from the opposite section.
“The top two in each section qualify for the league semi-finals while the bottom counties would face one another in a relegation play-off. Each team would be guaranteed four home games as well as four away. It would mean one more game for the bigger guns but that could be an advantage – they could use it to try out new players.”
Potential stumbling blocks to the proposal are the addition of an extra round of games into an already crowded fixtures calendar and the belief that the GAA hierarchy remains in favour of the 12-team format.
“The bottom line is that we are not happy with the direction things were going,” argues Meaney. “At the launch of the national hurling initiative last year, the GAA said they wanted one of six weaker counties to reach an All-Ireland semi-final within the next 10 years. Ourselves and Westmeath were possibly on course to keep building and get to that level, or at least aspire to it. Critics will argue that we were relegated (from Division 1B) this year but sure so too were Cork (from Division 1A). They have changed the rules to facilitate Cork.
“We would find it very hard to play in an effective third division and then go and play in the Liam MacCarthy Cup. We want to play in the league against the counties that we can really challenge and build from there.”
Westmeath, too, while they have gone off the boil a little in recent times, have worked exceptionally hard under Brian Hanley.
Both counties have until Saturday week to convince Central Council delegates that their system could work with the minimum of disruption.