Ahead of Saturday’s relegation/promotion playoff between Antrim and Kildare, both panels of hurlers have come out in opposition to the format of the Joe McDonagh Cup.
Kildare, winners of last weekend’s Christy Ring Cup final, will take on Antrim for a place in next year’s Joe McDonagh Cup; with the loser of that tie fated to spend another year outside the peripheral reach of the All-Ireland series.
In a joint-letter, both panels believed it is “incumbent on us to highlight the unfairness and inconsideration surrounding this fixture in the hope that we can positively affect change for the future.”
As of the current structure, Meath, the bottom-placed team in this year’s Joe McDonagh Cup, have already been relegated. With Offaly set to make the move down from the Leinster Championship next year (with the winners of Carlow and Westmeath going in the other direction), the six-team format of 2018 will become a five-team tournament for next year’s Championship – the winners of Kildare and Antrim joining Kerry, Laois and the remaining sides mentioned.
Unsatisfied with the prospect of this “illogical” change, the hurlers of Kildare and Antrim have outlined their reasons in a point-by-point method:
The Joe McDonagh Cup should remain at 6 teams; a request which is made in the interest of competitiveness, fair-play and equity. The McDonagh Cup has shown everyone how competitive hurling at the lower levels has become and the tier below the Liam McCarthy should encourage teams to achieve higher standards, not shut them out. This is a point which many panels have echoed throughout the year. A 5 team competition is illogical and only serves to make it more difficult for aspiring counties to compete. Antrim should remain in the competition as they did not finish bottom and Kildare should fill the relegated 6th spot.
The Christy Ring Cup competition, and by consequence the Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups, have been eroded in standing for a number of years consistently since their inception. For example, the Christy Ring Final used to take place before Liam McCarthy All-Ireland Semi-Finals, which held true to the original intentions of promoting hurling in the weaker counties. This progressive principle has been lost to a point where all these competitions have been downgraded to tiers 3, 4 and 5 and run off in their entirety before the end of June. This does nothing to promote respect for these competitions and this grievance has been aired numerous times in the past.
If the system of promotion/relegation matches is being discarded next year, then the time for implementation was this year’s competitions. They are unjust, unequal in advantage and unnecessarily stressful. Winning your respective competition must be the end-point and high-point of your competitive year. No further fixtures should ever be considered for any reason and automatic promotion must be the incentive. Promoted teams should be afforded the courtesy and respect of being given a pre-season to prepare for superior opposition and competition. Kildare suffered under a similar situation in 2014 and failed to win the Christy Ring for a further 3 seasons. This could have happened to any team in the competition that year. Manipulating the rules of promotion/relegation in such a fashion can and does have long term ramifications for progression.
The scheduling of this fixture exemplifies a blatant disregard for the welfare of the players. Both panels acknowledge that the week turnaround, the date, the timing and the location were not fixed with the best interest of the players in mind. We call for a more transparent, communicative, flexible and equitable process to be considered when fixing matches, especially of this nature and given the circumstances of all players involved.
Regardless of the result on Saturday both panels will support each other to retain the 6 team McDonagh Cup format and pursue all possible avenues to make this happen.
Utmost of all, the two panels of players are keen to stress that their frustrations are aired in the hope that “the GAA to listen to the concerns of the players and that increased respect is given to all participants of the great game of hurling.”
Having been repeatedly overlooked throughout much of the year thus far, the hurlers from both panels are keen ensure greater attention is paid to the Joe McDonagh Cup.