SATURDAY'S decision at the GAA’s special Congress to radically overhaul the All-Ireland senior hurling championship has obviously drawn a lot of comment since the weekend.
It’ll be about eight months until we can properly evaluate the new system in practice, but already it is being written off in various quarters, with different elements having different agendas.
Obviously, a lot of questions are thrown up, and the biggest one, in flashing lights, is the effect on the club game.
Presently, July and August are pretty much no-go areas for club championship matches and that situation will be exacerbated by the introduction of the round-robin All-Ireland football quarter-finals.
However, the new hurling system means that the championship is now front-loaded, with a heavy fixture list while the Munster and Leinster championships are played off before a closing stage similar to now, two All-Ireland quarter-finals, two semi-finals and the final.
Where do the opening rounds of the club competitions fit in alongside that, taking into account that county players can’t play with their clubs in the 13 days before a Cork game?
Realistically, we’re probably looking at earlier starts with a few months off before things resume after Cork exit the championships, or go all the way in them.
At least, if that change is made official, it will at least allow club players to plan summer holidays, rather than waiting anxiously to find out if a game might be scheduled, as is currently the case.
That is the big elephant in the room, but it shouldn’t colour any objective view regarding how the new-look intercounty championships will operate.
There is a fear that the cut-and-thrust of the knockout championship will disappear with the round-robin format and that is obviously a fear, but we have seen with the national hurling league in the last few years that the battle for qualification at the top and the need to avoid relegation at the bottom has led to some great contests, with everybody having something to play for.
The flaw still remains of the championship winners having a longer wait while the quarter-finals are being played, but you’re not going to find a perfect system which suits everyone.
Frank Murphy’s fear that the one of the five Munster counties might have to sit out a year and play in the mezzanine level just below the top tier is a bit of a red herring – Kerry have to top that group first and even if that happens, we can’t see the bottom Munster side losing to Kerry any time soon. In any case, the team that does top that lower group has the opportunity of a back door into the All-Ireland quarter-finals, so being relegated does come with a significant silver lining.
The modification of the U21 championship into two provinces, Munster and then a new Leinster with Galway and the top Ulster sides.
This has to be good. Galway going straight into the All-Ireland semis wasn’t ideal – if they had a particularly good team, they had an advantage against a Munster and Leinster side which had to come through a tough provincial competition, while if their team needed work then they were at a disadvantage in a win-or-bust scenario against one of the top sides.
The flipside is that – after a suggestion by Cork – the All-Ireland semi-finals will remain, as the Leinster and Munster champions face the runners-up from the other province. Will that lessen the importance of the finals? One would imagine not, as there remains the carrot of what should be an easier tie in the last four.
On the field at the weekend, we had St Finbarr’s advancing to a first county SFC final in seven years as they ended the reign of champions Carbery Rangers in Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday. While they couldn’t be labelled the Mayo of Cork – they have won All-Irelands in living memory, after all – since last winning the Andy Scannell Cup in 1985, they have lost seven deciders.
The team that beat them in the 2010 final were Nemo Rangers, who also eliminated them last year and will provide the opposition in the decider. Will the pattern change?
Obviously, the county final programme will feature a Barrs team picture, but they didn’t pose for one before Sunday’s semi, meaning that photographer George Hatchell had to wait until after the game to corral them together for a snap. True dedication.