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Westmeath Manager Perfectly Sums Up Major Flaw In Hurling Championship

Westmeath Manager Perfectly Sums Up Major Flaw In Hurling Championship
By Gavin Cooney

The newspapers will soon be full of previews of the hurling championship, as the Leinster and Munster championships hover into view. By then, however, the championship will have started - and ended - for a couple of counties, namely Kerry and Meath. The final round of games in the Leinster round-robin championship took place today, with Laois beating Kerry by three points, while Westmeath edged out Meath by two points: 1-18 to 0-19. It means that, despite losing their first two games, Westmeath progress to the Leinster championship. They will face Offaly, while Laois take on Wexford.

After his side's win, Westmeath manager Michael Ryan turned his thoughts, not to future opponents, but vanquished ones, as he complained about a structure that means Kerry and Meath will not play competitive hurling until 2018. Speaking to Newstalk's Oisin Langan:

My first thought is for the two teams, Kerry and Meath, who are out of the championship today. This is not promoting hurling by any shapes or means. Out of the championship in the middle of May, and they won't have another competitive game until next February. That could be us.

The GAA are doing a lot of things right, but it's not about getting competitions out of the way. There's got to be structures [put] in place [to ensure] counties are playing hurling in the summer months, when conditions are good and when you want to play hurling. Having said that, I don't know what's going to happen. But my gut feeling is that finance will take over, and it will be the same system as the football, which will only make the stronger teams stronger, and do nothing for teams like Westmeath, Laois, and Kerry.

There's not too much wrong with it as it is. I'm not concerned about hurling in Kilkenny or Tipperary, I'm more concerned about hurling right around the country. But if the GAA want to do something, to improve the standard in other counties, they have to take a cold, hard look at it.

Everything starts in the National schools, and that's where it's got to start. If you can instill the right attributes and the skills of the game in kids at National School level, and work it all the way through. Coaching is the secret, and just because somebody has coaching badges doesn't mean he's a coach. The structures must be good in the schools and up along. There's a chance a young fella might get better, and if you give him good practice, and give him incentives, he'll follow through.

The GAA seem determined to push through major changes to the hurling championship soon, with Pauric Duffy admitting yesterday that a special Congress could be called to push through reforms, with the prospect of the additional Gaelic football games under the new Super 8 system overshadowing hurling a very real worry for the Association.

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Denis Walsh of The Sunday Times reported a major change is on the cards, with the adoption of a group stage on the cards. These proposals include:

- The Munster and Leinster Championships will be played on a group basis.
- Each Championship will feature five teams.
- Teams will play four games each, two home and two away.
- The top two teams in each group will contest the provincial finals.
- The teams which finish third in the groups will progress to an All-Ireland quarter-final along with the losing provincial finalists.
- Provincial winners will automatically progress to the All-Ireland semi-finals.
- The bottom two teams in each group will be eliminated from the All-Ireland Hurling Championship.

More pertinent to Michael Ryan's opinion is the likely adoption of a third 'developmental' group which could feature six teams. It is thought the Leinster Championship will be comprised of four teams plus one more from this development group.

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[Newstalk]

See Also: Watch: All Five Goals From Kenmare District Vs Dingle In Kerry SFC

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