On Saturday the Gaelic Athletic Association passed a motion which may force the Tipperary County Board to significantly alter the structure of the club senior hurling and football championships in the Premier County.
Delegates to the special congress at Croke Park voted through (62%) an Árd Chomhairle motion which essentially means that the 2018 Munster and Leinster hurling championships will be played off as a round robin basis (five teams contesting each province with each guarantee at least two home games) on a three-year trial basis.
The top two teams in each group will progress to the provincial final with the winner qualifying for the All-Ireland semi-finals and the losers progressing to the quarter-finals. The third-placed team in each province will compete against one of the top two teams from the newly-created tier two competition in a preliminary quarter-final with the two winners going forward to the quarter-finals.
The 2018 provincial championships are expected to begin in early May and will come to a conclusion before the end of June.
Proponents of the Árd Chomhairle motion argue that the new system will free up twenty-four weekends for clubs games (instead of sixteen), but the issue is that those weekends will be freed up at a time of year which is, generally, not conducive to hurling. It is expected that April will be ring-fenced to accommodate club activity while the All-Ireland hurling final will take place before the end of August.
In response to the Árd Chomhairle motion the Tipperary County Board proposed a motion of their own since the executive was concerned about the impact that the provincial round robin could have on the club game in the Premier County.
County Board secretary Tim Floyd presented the Tipperary motion on Saturday at Croke Park (the motion proposed the adoption of a knock-out/loser’s group structure which would allow for club activity during the summer months). And, Tim Floyd emphasised the likely impact on club fixtures, especially for dual counties.
“We have four thousand adult players in Tipperary, thirty-five of them are inter-county players - that's just two per cent. Hurling is a summer game for all players, not just inter-county players,” the Newport man explained.
“Shutting down the club championship from May to August is not acceptable,” Tim Floyd said.
The Tipperary executive may now be forced to drastically alter the format of the club championships as a result of Saturday’s vote. Essentially, in 2018 there will not be enough dates to run the county senior hurling championships in their current format.
The entire issue was discussed at the September meeting of the Tipperary County Board on Tuesday, September 26th in the Sarsfields Centre, Thurles.
And, it was clear at the meeting that both the County Board executive and the delegates to the County Board were concerned about the potential consequences that a revamped All-Ireland senior hurling championship could have on the club scene in Tipperary.
At last week’s meeting of the Tipperary County Board there was no support from the executive committee or from the club delegates for the Árd Chomhairle motion to introduce a round robin format to the provincial championships.
County Board secretary Tim Floyd, for example, explained to delegates that the executive committee proposed a motion with regard to the re-structuring of the All-Ireland senior hurling championship since they were concerned about the impact that the Árd Chomhairle motion could have on club fixtures.
County Board chairman Michael Bourke then explained the likely consequences if the Munster championship was run on a round robin basis.
“There will be no time until the end of August to play club games - it is as simple as that,” County Board chairman Michael Bourke explained.
“The Croke Park motion does not allow for club activity,” Mr Bourke added.
Speaking passionately from the floor Arravale Rovers club delegate Gerry Ring simply asked “where do we get the Sundays to play our club games?”
“Our games are suffering and people are walking away from our games,” Gerry Ring insisted.
“Are the tidy towns (committees) to be the new community organisations in Ireland? Are we gone,” the Arravale Rovers delegate asked.
North Tipperary Board chairman Dan Kennedy (Roscrea) suggested that, inevitably, “county players and club players are going to have to become separate entities”.
“I am totally unhappy with it,” John Devane revealed before arguing that the GAA “are rushing into this”. The Boherlahan-Dualla man also suggested that the special congress should be postponed.
Borris-Ileigh delegate Gerry Treacy agreed and suggested that a postponement would give all parties concerned the “opportunity to sit down and have a proper discussion about it”.
Nicholas Moroney (St Patrick’s) spoke out in favour of retaining the status quo, but Mr Moroney also argued that “we have tighten it up” in terms of scheduling.
On Sunday, September 24th the Tipperary County Board hosted a press event to promote the forthcoming senior club hurling championship final between Thurles Sarsfields and Borris-Ileigh. And, the opinion of the Thurles Sarsfields captain Pádraic Maher on the entire issue was revealing. Indeed, Pádraic Maher argued that the scheduling of the games and not the format was the issue with regard to structure of the inter-county hurling championship.
“I know myself that I love playing in the Munster championship. The players just get on with what we are dealt, but I think the Munster championship is great. There are pros and cons to it (the proposed round-robin provincial championships). I would be a bit more (of a) traditionalist. Look, if they come up with a system fair play, but, I suppose, all we want to do is play games. Even in the National League, you are playing quality games week-in, week-out and they are very enjoyable. I don't know what is going to happen, but if we stick to the Munster championship I would be happy enough with that - if you could shorten up the gap between a Munster final and an All-Ireland semi-final that’s the issue,” Pádraic Maher explained.