Hurling and camogie

McKinley welcomes senior reform but wants more at under-21 and minor

Joint Antrim manager Dominic McKinley (right). Picture by Colm O'Reilly

ANTRIM joint manager Dominic McKinley has welcomed the CCCC’s proposals for reform of the All-Ireland senior hurling Championship – but says that the GAA must do more to help at minor and under-21 level.

The proposals, which will be discussed by Central Council next Saturday ahead of an expected Special Congress later in the year, would see Antrim included in a five-team provincial qualifier group at senior level.

The winners of that group, which next year would also contain Laois, Westmeath, Kerry and Carlow, would qualify for a playoff against the third placed team from either Munster or Leinster, depending on which province is designated during a two-year rolling cycle.

If accepted on a three-year trial basis, both Antrim and Carlow would move up for next year irrespective of how Saturday’s Christy Ring Cup goes.

A change to the system this year will see the winners progress to a playoff against Laois later this month for a place in the All-Ireland qualifiers proper.

The proposed reform would mean that in future, the counties in the provincial qualifier group would play only in the Liam McCarthy Cup and be therefore unlikely to win a Championship trophy.

McKinley, though, feels that offering a proper pathway to hurling at the highest level is of greater significance.

“Everybody’s happy with a proposal comes in that will help their county, and there’s no doubt this is great benefit to us,” said the Loughgiel native.

“We see ourselves at this moment in time as being in that second tier. Until such times that we can come out of that, that’s where we should be. I welcome it with open arms.

“I think it’s good that there’s promotion and relegation in it. If you can’t hold your status, you come back and you’re going in every year with the aim of at least getting in the top two.

“It’s been well thought out. Winning a trophy doesn’t really matter. We want to try and get this team into the qualifiers. At this moment in time we’re a bit away from it but who’s to say in a couple of years’ time?

“This format gives us an opportunity to slowly progress, to get to where we want. It’s not throwing us in at the deep end at the top – this gives us a platform and a pathway to that. It’s the right way. We can crawl up the ladder and seeing how high we can go,” said McKinley.

One tweak he would make would be to offer a playoff place to the second placed team in the provincial qualifier group rather than giving it to the third placed team from either Munster or Leinster.

The proposal does create an imbalance between the two major provinces in that respect, with three from Munster staying in along with two from Leinster in 2018, and vice versa the following year.

“Honestly I can’t see any reason why three come out of one of the other groups and just one out of that.

“If it was me I’d propose that two counties would come out of the provincial group, and give two teams a chance to play a higher level of hurling.

“There’d maybe be very little between those top two and it’s a good way to look at it and see where they’re at. If you get to the top of the group you want to test yourself to see where you are, and if you don’t get that test there’s maybe a wee bit of a void in it.

“Even we weren’t in it, I’d still want the top two to come out and get that opportunity.”

The proposals, however, do not imbue the same hope for the future at under-21 or minor level for Antrim or any of their Ulster counterparts.

Galway and “any Ulster teams of sufficient strength” are in line to be accommodated in the Leinster under-21 Championship, while “consideration should be given to the participation of Antrim, and possibly one other Ulster county” in the province at minor level.

But the wording is much more certain about Galway’s involvement, leaving Ulster in a state of limbo over that area of the proposals.

Northern counties could accept the proposals but find themselves with no pathway out of Ulster for the champions at both levels.

“I’d disagree with them being excluded completely, but the bottom line is that we’re not performing at that top level in minor so they have to do something about it,” says McKinley.

”Why not go into the same as the seniors are doing? The simplest format is to put our minors into a Leinster round robin with four or five teams, and if you’re good enough to come out of that then you’re worthy to go forward.

“You can’t just exclude them and give them no pathway to go anywhere. I don’t think the GAA is about that.

“Their job is to give everybody, not just us, the pathway to get to the highest point we can. You won’t do that by excluding Antrim or Ulster teams from that.

“You can’t tell us to just go back and play in Ulster, and for there to be no other way. There has to be a way out of it.

”There’ll be years where we’d have a good group of players and we need to work towards that, allowing them to compete at that level. We need a pathway for that.

“To exclude us is more or less washing their hands of us.”

Hurling and camogie

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