I've come to believe the clubs should be brave and opt for the most experimental championship format

I've come to believe the clubs should be brave and opt for the most experimental championship format
Ballincollig and Cork wing-back Cian Kiely kicks a point. Picture: Ger Bonus

CHANGE is coming but to what extent?

That’s the question ahead of Monday's special county board meeting when clubs will vote on a number of options about how the championships will be structured and organised next year and in 2021.

It’s widely accepted that the current championships are not fit for purpose and need to be tailored drastically to suit the needs and demands of club players who are left at the whim of the success or otherwise of Cork teams in determining their fixtures.

There are common threads running through all three proposals such as a Champions’ League-style group phase at the outset before the cut and thrust of knock-out.

That’s to be welcomed though it doesn’t automatically mean more games as seen further down in an outline of the three options.

But there’s also a call for a reduction of clubs in the top grade in hurling and football with the introduction of a new Premier Senior grade and this requires a second vote to determine how clubs are to be graded.

One is for the 2019 championship results only to be the criterion and the second is for results from 2016 through to this season to decide.

The board gave clubs and their delegates three opportunities to vent their feelings before clubs themselves discussed the topics, so nobody can accuse Páirc Uí Chaoimh of not giving them their chance to have a say.

The three motions are labelled ‘April and August’, ‘August Only’ and ‘Summer Games’ and the vote will be on a proportional representation basis.

Sarsfields Daniel Kearney turns away from Imokilly's Ciarán O'Brien.
Sarsfields Daniel Kearney turns away from Imokilly's Ciarán O'Brien.

The first has four grades of 12 teams each divided into three groups of four. Premier Senior will have one game in April and the other two in August.

The leading two sides in each group qualify for the quarter-finals with the second and best third-placed teams playing off for a spot along with the final third-placed team meeting either a division or college for the remaining place.

Intermediate will be four groups of four with the top two in each advancing to the quarter-finals. In all other grades the leading pair in each advance to play-offs.

The positive aspect of this plan is more championship games, and with Cork players available, but the downside is the long gap between April and August.

The ‘August Only’ plan differs in one less game from four groups of three teams each, both to be played in August with the top two advancing though the second-placed team with the worst record will have to play a division or college to make the quarter-finals.

This is likely to be the least attractive of the proposals with fewer games and no summer action. Clubs are likely to blow this out of the water.

Option C, ‘Summer Games’ looks the most appealing even though there’s the nuclear element of clubs playing without their Cork players in some games, but with five outings, clubs could be swayed.

The plan is for a game in April and either one or two more in May and June depending on Cork’s progress, the hurlers in qualifying from Munster and the footballers making the Super 8s. The remaining two will be in August.

Winners of games without inter-county players get two points, but it will be four points with Cork players. A Cork player will be defined as one who was in the 26-strong match-day squad from the previous game.

The top four in either group along with a division or college advance to the quarter-finals, though the second best team in fourth must take on a division or college.

The key is regular, meaningful games in the summer and more action for both club and county player.

The negative aspect is players lining out without Cork players and the grading up of second-team players who are then caught in Premier Senior for the rest of the season.

My own view initially was that clubs playing without Cork players was one of Brexit’s infamous red lines, but I’ve come around to believe it’s the best option.

None are perfect and that’s the crux. There is no ideal solution to placating interested parties, despite the best attempts of all involved in the process.

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