While the focus is very much on the future hopes and prospects of clubs for the upcoming season, the success or otherwise of a system, proposed and agreed upon and with a current shelf-life of bare 20 months, deserves comment of some substance before the system hits its second birthday, writes Barrie Henriques.
Some two campaigns ago, a far-sighted, industrious young Kilmacow man came up with a proposal of far reaching consequences that was deserving of serious consideration.
He discussed his ideas with the people involved in the GAA in the South, and then convinced the Northern lads that this was the way forward in the junior hurling grades.
Paul Long, having succeeded in clearing the divisional board hurdle that is the Southern Convention, took his courage in his hands and completed the operation in the junior arena when his ideas sailed through up North, with the assistance of the kindly intervention of P.J. Kenny.
With masterful control, and an equally competent delivery of his ideas to County Convention, the Kilmacow man convinced the big hitters at Convention that this surely was the way to travel in the lower reaches if the standards were to get somewhat lifted.
Did it service the needs that he envisaged, we asked.
“I think it did in most senses, although it still needs some tweaking,” Paul felt now when he looked back on things.
“Well, I feel that the divisional winners should get a more advantageous reward than the system allows presently. I would have to say that the advantages and improvements far out-weighed the shortfalls. It was great that there were no dissenters, and that everyone bought into the hopes and aspirations that I had hoped for.”
His great idea? It was to redraw the junior grade in hurling, and to turn the championship into an all county event. Getting all the pieces to slot together wasn’t easy, but with co-operatoion all round, the new system worked a treat. One of the big things to be overcome was the way senior and intermediate clubs fielded strong teams at the start, often beating a genuine junior outfit, before losing players to the more senior outfit in the club. Paul’s idea cleared that hurdle.
“I purposely tried to see as many of the games as I could, because human nature being what it is, nobody needs, or would want to look foolish in front of their peers,” Paul said of his softly, softy approach to things. “Some of the games that pitted Northern junior teams against Southern junior teams were very good, and I felt that there was a considerable elevation of the standards whenever that scenario manifested itself.
“In addition, it certainly brought conclusion to the impasse whereby intermediate and senior clubs would wallop stand solely junior clubs in first round games because of the practice of playing eligible senior players, who would be unavailable as the competition progressed for reasons of need in the higher games as they kicked off. It certainly levelled the playing field in that regard.
“In fact, it is quite conceivable that O’Loughlin Gaels could have won the junior championship but for introducing two of their players on to their senior team as substitutes against Tullaroan, thus rendering them ineligible.
“ It was a commonly held belief that if they had not made the substitution, it was more than possible that they could have beaten Bennettsbridge in the junior championship semi-final.
“Something similar happened the previous year where the all-conquering St Patrick’s, Ballyragget barely got over the line in front of O’Loughlin’s, again in the junior semi-final.
“So you see, the new system prevents the decimation of sole junior clubs, whose interest is confined to the junior championship, with just one shot available to them.
“I think it is a good system, and another great plus about it is that there is tremendous goodwill towards making it work as it was intended,” said the constructively-thinking Kilmacow man.
Contrary to public perception, the new system did not lead to the demise of the Divisional Championships, and even though we did not get to the Northern final between Bennettsbridge and Lisdowney, the Southern decider in Mullinavat in which Thomastown barely got over the winning line in front of a very stylish, competent and competitive Piltown was a cracker.
We have no doubt that if the result had been reversed, the Iverk lads could so comfortably have been All-Ireland champions instead of the Thomastown men!
To underscore the debate about the benefits accruing from the new system, let’s take the Thomastown team as the template. They started their season quietly. However, they were roarin’ for road as the South final loomed.
They needed extra time to succeed. Their collective abilities had taken giant steps through the South, a by-product of the competitiveness encountered through the All-County League.
A noticeable torc increase in the steel and determination department of their team was simmering, and one got the impression, an impression passed on to many listeners, that this Thomastown outfit under the tutelage of one of their own former inter-county stars, Paul Treacy would take some burning, if at all.
Even in the county final against a young Bennettsbridge, and making allowances for the appalling conditions, one felt that the Thomastown focus was ripe for harvesting something big. History will prove that such observation was correct.
Their chairman, Richard Moore, put the reasons for the success firmly in the corner of the Paul Long system.
“I am totally convinced that our campaign, and certainly the conclusion of our campaign, can be attributed to the quality of competition and the regularity of the game schedule we received,” Richard said. “The South competitions were terrific, and believe me, we certainly treated every game we played with total application.
“We never had less than 21 players in the training field, which helped too, because we shipped a few injuries along the route.
“But the further we went, the more concentrated and dedicated the lads got, and Paul and his team did a marvellous job.
“Lads were saying that we should go outside the county to play lads better than ourselves, but our management took the decision to stay at home, because we were able to get great games in the county, which was a result of the new system.
“It certainly helped us anyway,” insisted Mr Moore.
So it seems that the junior arena is in heel-ball ship shape condition, and well ordained to go forward with confidence.
However, the same P.J. Kenny, who was a tremendous adjutant to Paul Long in his deliberations on the re-organisation, has now crafted a whole new format for all the County League competitions from senior right down to the lowest junior level.
He has been assisted by Paul Long, and their deliberations will be presented to the Divisional Boards before, hopefully, going to County Convention.
There is no doubt that their ideas are revolutionary, and initially might cause a little confusion. But I am convinced that P.J. will surmount the problems of interpretation and understanding by the time the proposal hits the boardroom table.
It is interesting reading some of the arguments proffered by P.J. in his submissions.
For instance, he makes the point, and a very valid one it is, that whilst in discussion with players and managers that the general consensus was that once two games are lost in the Aylward and Byrne Cup competitions, that the remaining fixtures are a waste of good time.
Not enough games
Last year, he pointed out, Mullinavat, Conahy, Tullogher, Tullaroan and Glenmore were all out of the Aylward Cup after three rounds on June 13.
Consequently players from those clubs played one meaningful game in 126 days (June 13 to October 6) in the middle of the Summer when conditions were at their most inviting for players and supporters alike.
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The Aylward and Byrne Cup competitions were down to the last four teams by June 30. As a result, players from 16 senior and intermediate clubs played one meaningful game over a duration of 109 days (June 30 to October 6). It is suggested in the proposals, and there are many who would concur with the sentiments, that the success of the county teams is contributing largely to a culture that the club hurlers is not being catered for fully.
One feels that such a concept will be hotly disputed, nevertheless, there is strong support out there that club players can get more hurling competitions in foreign climes than they can at home in their own county.
P.J. poses the following hypothetical question: if Kilkenny lose at the Leinster semi-final, but still go on to contest the All-Ireland final, and the under-21 team reach the final between May 20 and September 8, when are club hurlers going to get competitive games?
The inter-county schedule would then read: June 23 Leinster semi-final; June 26 Leinster under-21 semi-final; July 6/13 senior qualifiers; July 10 under-21 Leinster final; July 28 senior quarter-finals; August 18 All-Ireland semi-finals; August 24 under-21 semi-final; September 8 senior final; September 24 under-21 final.
Makes interesting reading!
P.J. just does not ask the questions. He comes with offers of solution.
In a wide-ranging offer, he is suggesting a very interesting League procedure which creates a League with a promotion and relegation concept. He is suggesting five divisions of eight teams where every club in the county plying their trade at their specific level compete.
He advocates a league final between the top two in Division I only. Promotion for the top two in the other divisions is the reward, although there could be a final with a reward. That idea needs teasing out. The relegation concept is very obvious, rather like the English Soccer League.
Start up in 2014
The 36 Kilkenny teams are supplemented by the inclusion of four Carlow teams.
League 2 is a facsimile of League 1, made up of the second and third teams in clubs, with the same contingencies. Mr Kenny feels that the myriad of cups around the place should now be scrapped, and re-allocated to his league format.
He feels that grading of teams will be important, and that it should be based on championship performances.
He proposes that the starting date should be earmarked for the 2014 season. He is at pains to point out that this league system will not interfere at any levels with the various championships.
The idea is a revolutionary one, although elements of it have been in the air for a number of years. Like the sower sowing the seed, most of the idea will fall on good ground. There is much more sectors involved with P.J. Kenny’s proposal, and as I have already stated, it deserves considerable debate at club level.
One would advocate that the clubs in the county should digest it for all of the right reasons, many of them well chronicled in P.J. Kenny’s proposal.
With Paul Long giving a helping hand, it would appear on the surface that the idea is a good one, but it certainly deserves the respect of a solid, careful, analytical hearing and discussion.
There are still a lot of great young minds out there.
Kenny and Long are a couple of them!