THE ROAD TO Liam McCarthy is set to take a new direction following the publication of proposals to revamp the hurling league and championship from 2014.
Among the changes to the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship which will be considered by GAA Ard Comhairle is the introduction of a round-robin qualifying group for Leinster’s “developing counties.”
The proposal documents, approved by Coiste Bainistí last weekend and published today, also feature three options to restructure the National Hurling League including a possible return to an eight-team Division 1 or the reintroduction of league quarter-finals.
Ard Comhairle will be asked to choose one of these two options, or decide to keep the current league format, at its next meeting on 15 December.
If approved, the CCCC’s proposed changes to the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship would be phased in over a three-year period from 2014 to 2016, during which time the Liam McCarthy Cup would be reduced from its current 15 teams to 13.
The proposal, which the CCCC say is intended to ensure “more competitive streamlined and balanced championships for all inter-county teams”, would also allow the traditionally weaker hurling counties to win their way into the main competition via a series of promotions.
The most noticeable changes will come in Leinster where a preliminary “qualifying group” – initially featuring Laois, Antrim, Westmeath, Carlow and London — would see those developing counties compete for two spots in the provincial quarter-finals.
Kilkenny, Galway, Dublin, Wexford, Offaly will all still be guaranteed a place in the Leinster Championship proper each year, with the reigning provincial title-holders continuing to receive a bye directly into the semi-finals.
In order to reduce the competition numbers from 15 to 13 over this initial three-year period, the bottom-placed team in the qualifying group will be automatically relegated to the Christy Ring Cup in 2014 and 2015. The winner of the Christy Ring Cup will also have an opportunity to gain entry to the Liam McCarthy by beating the second-from-bottom team in a promotion/relegation play-off.
From 2016 onwards, there will be no automatic relegation to the Christy Ring Cup and instead it will be the bottom county in the qualifying group which will face the play-off.
The changes will be accompanied by a similar restructuring of the Christy Ring Cup and Nicky Rackard Cup (eight teams each) and the Lory Meagher Cup (four teams) in line with the vision outlined in the 2008 Hurling Development proposals.
In the event that Kerry qualify for the 2016 MacCarthy Cup through promotion, they would play in the Leinster qualifying group initially and if successful qualify for an additional Munster (rather than Leinster) quarter-final spot.
Ard Comhairle will be asked to choose between three options for the format of the 2014 National Hurling League. Option Two is to retain the “status quo” which was introduced in 2012 and will continue next season.
Option 1 would see the same basic divisional structure retained with 12 teams in Division 1 (six in 1A and six 1B), 12 in Division 2, and 10 in Division 3 (six in 3A and four in 3B).
In theory, each county in Division 1 would be able to win the league title with the top four teams in each “group” progressing to a quarter-final stage: the 1A winners playing the fourth-placed team in 1B, the 1A runners-up playing the third-placed team in 1B etc.
The fifth- and sixth-placed counties in each group would meet in a relegation play-off with the 1A losers automatically dropping down to 1B. The 1B losers would have a second chance to preserve their Division 1 status when they face the winner of the Division 2A final in a promotion/relegation decider.
Under Option 1, the 12 Division 1 counties would each be guaranteed a sixth game per season, regardless of league position.
The alternative up for discussion, Option 3, would see the league restructured again into three eight-team divisions (1, 2 and 3) with the remaining 10 counties split across Divisions 4A (six) and 4B (four).
Under this option, the eight teams in Division 1 would play seven regular games each with the top four counties qualifying for the semi-finals and final. The bottom team would then face the Division 2 champions in a promotion/relegation decider.
There will be no semi-finals in the lower divisions.