Amid the universal praise for the new senior hurling format, it has had another, much less-heralded success story.
The second-tier Joe McD0nagh competition has (with the exception of a couple of hammerings dealt to Meath) been fiercely competitive. Of the 12 games thus far, only four have had a winning margin of more than four points. Westmeath are already guaranteed a place in the final with four wins from four, with Carlow in pole position to join them.
Carlow face Westmeath in the final round this weekend, and will qualify for the final if they avoid defeat. Lose to Westmeath, however, and Antrim will leapfrog them should the Saffrons see off Kerry. The top two face-off in the final, and will also qualify for an All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final against the third-placed sides in the Leinster and Munster championships. Added to this, the winner of the McDonagh Cup promoted to the Liam McCarthy Cup.
Speaking on this week's edition of The So-Called Weaker Podcast, Westmeath manager Michael Ryan spoke favourably of the new competition, but was critical of media coverage of the competition along with the GAA's plan next year to reduce the competition to five teams.
You can listen to the interview in full on the podcast.
The two teams who get to the final will have seven championship games, which has to be a good thing. There have been a lot of even games, and the standard has been fairly good. What I would say is that the media coverage has been very poor. Particularly from the television point of view which is a problem for players. When you're trying to promote the game in these counties, a little bit of better coverage would be good.
Overall, it's been a really good competition and what I particularly like is the even number of counties, meaning no teams have a bye, so the concept is working very well. So, lo and behold, I hear that they want to make it into a five-team competition. Typical Irish thing: if something isn't broken, go and fix it.
As far as I know is that one team from our group is being relegated, and the second team from the bottom are playing off with the Christy Ring winners. It looks like they want to get it back to five teams, and I think that's a mistake. It's perfect as it is: everyone is playing at the same time. Look at the Munster round-robin: it might all come down to Cork against Waterford, and Cork will have had a free week whereas Waterford will have played four weeks in a row. It's not a level playing field.
Expanding on his criticism of media coverage, Ryan floated the idea that TG4 could get involved with broadcasting the competition:
Some of the blame goes to RTE. At the end of the day, they didn't even put up the scores some weeks. Maybe they don't have enough cameras and reporters to go around, surely it costs nothing to throw the results on screen, yet there were some weeks in which they didn't even throw the results on screen. It shouldn't have happened. Each and every team down there are working just as hard as everybody else.
We are all doing our four or five nights a week, we are doing our gym sessions, so everybody is putting it in. From a spectator point of view, the reaction from the people at the games has been very good. The standard has been decent, the commitment has been total and it is well worth showing.
Maybe there should have been some kind of deal done with TG4 to show it. It's something that needs to be looked at going forward. We can probably forgive it because it's the first year of the competition, but it needs to be looked at.
Listen to the full interview on the podcast.