A MAJOR overhaul of Cork’s club championship structures is on the way and, in time, it can only improve the quality of player coming through to the inter-county teams.
The current system is as bloated as a kid gorging on Easter eggs after staying off chocolate for Lent. There are 61 hurling teams and 53 in football spread across the intermediate, premier intermediate and senior grades.
Many of the sides in the intermediate ranks are miles off the pace and the removal of transparent relegation, where you dropped down after losing four successive games in one season, has taken the edge off senior championship especially.
How can Rebel football manager Ronan McCarthy, or his hurling counterpart John Meyler, be expected to assess players' form when there are so many one-sided or meaningless club championship encounters in the opening rounds?
The Cork County Board announced on Tuesday night that the number of teams will be reduced to 48 in both codes, spread across four tiers of 12, including a new premier senior top level. Group stages will also be introduced, with the clubs to vote on the three options presented, one of which would see teams divided into pots of six, with two of the matches being played mid-summer without any inter-county players.
It's hard to see how that one will be approved but it at least starts the debate within the county bounds and beyond about a better balance for club players – the overwhelming majority of the playing membership in the GAA. It would be fascinating to see how the board’s plan C would pan out if it was trailed for a year.
With two groups of six there would be more meaningful matches for every player. And to soften the blow of lining out minus the inter-county core, games without them would be worth two points for a win whereas the three games with them would be valued at four points.
From the media and supporters’ perspective, that variant would be terrific entertainment through the summer and provide 360 games, well up on the 270 if it’s groups of four and the 220 if it’s groups of three. That alternative would see nothing played until August when Cork’s hurling and football campaigns are over. Hardly an improvement over the current scenario even if the leagues are also revamped and incentivised.
Summer soccer is on the way at schoolboy level and establishing a base from May to July would reassert the GAA’s position as the most important sport when the weather is favourable.
Club members, players and sports fans would relish a bit of worthwhile action locally with the sun beaming down.