Hurling’s Tiered Championship Not Football’s Plan

This weekend the provincial line-ups will be complete and the debate to a tiered championship will rage on.

It has to happen if you listen to the Sunday Game or in fact to GAA President John Horan declaring that plans are now afoot to develop these ideas.

While pundits and blazers weight in on what seems to be window dressing to the arrival of a bold new era, the Sunday Independent’s Marie Crowe pointed out, player opinion has been rather muffled.

The players will be last listened to as the blazers decide the future. Crowe pointing to a 2018 GPA survey were 60% of players wanted a tiered championship, yet a 2016 GPA survey of division four teams was unanimously against.

Let’s throw an eye on a different code and a forgotten story. 20 years ago Manchester United completed the treble. The European Cup, Premier League and FA Cup, the first team to do so.

Unknown during the celebrations a nuclear bomb had been planted as FIFA decided a new World Club Cup would take place in January 2000 including the European Cup winners.

Three group games in Brazil, however the schedule clashed with the famous FA Cup third round date. United themselves decided to decline the invitation, however under pressure from the FA via an eventual failed 2006 World Cup bid, United entered the World club cup.

A compromise was found to alleviate mid-season congestion. A story that shocked English football, the 1999 FA Cup Winners would not defend their title, thus not enter the famous FA Cup.

While publically agreeing with his Manchester United employers, Alex Fergusson was said to be deeply unhappy with the decision.

Many English soccer journalist to this day claim a majority of Manchester United players contacted them trying to arrange some campaign to return Man U to the cup.

Alas nothing ever happened, player unhappiness was forgotten. Man U flopped in Brazil, exited the World Club Cup and returned to England in January with a nice tan.

The pro-change pundit’s and blazers highlight the success of the tiered hurling competition to a now instance on the introduction of the “Paidi O’Se Cup”.

Crowe highlighted the players who agree with change are the ones it won’t affect. Dublin, Kerry, Tyrone et all in a giant super-8 while Sligo play in empty wind swept grounds for two points in round two group three of the Paidi O’Se cup.

Yet has anyone really looked at the progress hurling has made in its new format.

Granted 2018 was seen as Hurling’s golden era as the Leinster and Munster championship saw quality game upon quality game.

But let’s be honest, Hurling is nothing more than a minority sport, popularly played in large areas of some parts of the country.

There’s always been a core of Galway, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Limerick, yet outside of that there is barren landscapes, where people carrying hurls can be mistaken for people carrying weapons.

Since 1961 11 teams have competed in the All-Ireland hurling final.

I picked 1961 as this was Dublin’s last appearance in the All-Ireland final. Yes Dublin made an All-Ireland final but did you know they only played two games to get there?

A 10-point win over Westmeath and a one point Leinster final win over Wexford setup a straight All-Ireland final with Munster champions Tipperary.

Yes, that’s right there was no All-Ireland semi-final!

The Leinster championship was contested by Laois, Westmeath, Offaly, Wexford, Kilkenny and Dublin. Munster by Galway, Clare, Waterford, Limerick, Tipperary and Cork.

12 teams! Just 12 teams, none from Ulster, sound familiar?

Hurling was always a game which was excellent between grade A teams, yet more akin to a man shooting fish in a barrel between grade A and B teams.

The introduction of the Christy Ring Cup and Nicky Rackard cup in ’05, Lory Meagher in 2009 and Joe McDonagh in 2018 have seen 37 teams take part in an extended Al-Ireland championship.

Those 37 teams include prestigious counties such as South Down and Fingal. Fingal was a rural now already urbanised area of north county Dublin.

Add to that the hurling strong holds of Lancashire and Warwickshire.

In the 14-years of new structures, 16 teams have competed in the All-Ireland senior championship. That in effect means only four teams sit on the cusp of the traditional group.

So should it be the minority sport model which Gaelic football should be based on? In the same 58-year period 14 counties have made the football final, including Roscommon (twice), Mayo (loads) and Kildare, all only have silver medals.

While football has its faults, it is nowhere near the faults hurling holds which is best highlighted the lower down the pyramid you go.

It began as three tiers. A fourth tier was introduced four years later and a fifth in 2018.

While 16 have played in the highest bracket, three have never been promoted beyond the second lowest bracket. One of those, Cavan didn’t even enter the competition for five years.

Two of the other three, Leitrim and Fermanagh have spent all but one of the last 14-years in the bottom grade. Leitrim possess two hurling clubs and Fermanagh one.

The new tiered system has simply continued hurling’s tradition of making the strong stronger and leaving the weak to die.

Taking the chance of provincial and All-Ireland glory away from a footballer won’t work, because it’s not a minority sport.