Time to review format of Byrne and Aylward Cup competitions

We ARE now at the mid-way point in the Kilkenny senior and intermediate hurling leagues and the half-term report will not make pleasant reading for some clubs.

We ARE now at the mid-way point in the Kilkenny senior and intermediate hurling leagues and the half-term report will not make pleasant reading for some clubs.

The long enforced break due to the upcoming Leinster championship games at senior, intermediate, under-21 and minor levels will see clubs having to wait until the middle of July to resume serious competitive action. 

This is a particularly long wait and leaves every club with a big challenge to keep players motivated. We do, of course, want all Kilkenny teams to make progress through the various championships, so there is a price to be paid for inter-county progress.

The Byrne and Aylward Cup competitions kick-in during this time, but the interest in these games can best be described as lukewarm. I do not favour the current format in which the two competitions comprise a mixture of senior and intermediate teams.

Personally, I would opt for a three-tier league of eight teams, with each club guaranteed seven league games. Each division would conclude with a semi-final and final.

I believe winning a league title (be that Division 1, 2 or 3) would hold far more status than a Byrne Cup or Aylward Cup competition. Those cups, named after great Kilkenny Gaels, could still be used for the winners of two of the league competitions.

I see the top eight senior clubs (after the conclusion of the league series of the current championships) compromising Division 1; the bottom four senior clubs plus the top four intermediate clubs would comprise Division 2, while the bottom eight intermediate clubs would comprise Division 3.

Promotion and relegation between the divisions would have no relevance to a club’s senior or intermediate status, while the relegated intermediate club would be replaced by the junior champions.

With this proposed structure a team could operate in the senior championship, but be playing in Division 2. On the other hand a team operating in the intermediate championship could also be playing Division 2 hurling.

Yes, it would be different, but so what? Clubs are showing minimal interest in the current mid-year competitions, so maybe it is time to try something different.

Perhaps the County Board might offer an incentive to the league winners which would spice up the competitions!

One of the biggest changes in the summer hurling schedule from over a decade ago is the absence of tournaments. Sadly, few remain. Those competitions enthralled crowds in Kilkenny particularly when teams from different counties were in opposition.

The 2012 Aylward and Byrne Cup competitions commence this week and they will at least keep clubs active during the inter-county period. As for the interest from clubs in the two competitions, we can judge that over the coming months.

Meanwhile, in the competition where there is no doubting the interest of clubs, Ballyhale Shamrocks sit comfortably at the top of Group 1 in the senior grade. So far, they look the stand out team, while St Martin’s are a strong bet to finish second.

The Fenians have bounced back impressively with a brace of victories since their opening round rout at the hands of Martin’s. What once appeared like a bleak year for Johnstown is suddenly looking a lot more cheerful.

Despite standing on the precipice of relegation last year, Tullaroan are again struggling to make an impression, although they will be happy to have secured their first two league points against Danesfort.

Last year’s intermediate champions are finding the going difficult in the senior grade. They may be bottom of the table, but that situation could change with victories over the Fenians and Dunnamaggin in their remaining games.

The second senior group is close with four teams still in contention. Although O’Loughlin Gaels and Carrickshock lead the table, the prospects of Erin’s Own and particularly James Stephens taking a top two spot cannot be dismissed.

Last year’s senior champions have yet to display the form which saw them win the title, but they have time on their side.

Dicksboro and Graigue-Ballycallan are struggling to pick up points, although the former will be glad to have picked up their first point in their last outing.

Young Irelands are the star performers in Group 1 of the intermediate grade and have looked really impressive in their three games.

It is looking like a battle between neighbours St Lachtain’s (Freshford) and St Patrick’s (Ballyragget) for the second spot, with the upcoming game between the sides the crucial decider.

Conahy Shamrocks are pointless after three games and struggling, but if they can maintain the form shown in the closing 20 minutes of their last game they could yet surprise a team or two in the knock-out stages. 

Tullogher and Emeralds do not, at this stage, appear like taking either of the top two positions, unless results go their way in the remaining two games.

Clara underlined their credentials as championship favourites with three clinical results to date. They will take top spot in Group 2, but predicting which team will finish second is something of a lottery as any of the remaining sides are capable of grabbing that spot.

One hopes that the weather will be a little kinder to the players and supporters when the games resume in mid-July. Indeed, the players must have viewed the lovely weather last weekend with envy as many had to ensure tough conditions over recent weeks.

For now, clubs can take stock of their performances and use the Byrne and Aylward Cup competitions to unearth a few players who just might make the difference when the knock-out stages commence in a couple of months.