Hurling and camogie

Dominic McKinley backs new second-tier competition

Antrim joint manager Dominic McKinley says he is in favour of the Central Council proposals for reform of the hurling championship. Picture by Colm O'Reilly

ANTRIM joint-manager Dominic McKinley believes that the six counties that could be involved in a new second tier hurling competition should back the Central Council proposals at this weekend’s Special Congress.

When the GAA initially unveiled its plans for reform of the All-Ireland hurling championship back in June, they included a qualifier group from which one team would emerge to play in that year’s Liam MacCarthy Cup.

But after consulting with counties, they have instead put forward a motion to restrict the premier competition to the top 10 teams, with the winner of the new second tier competition winning promotion into the following season’s Liam MacCarthy.

McKinley, who takes the Saffrons along with Terence McNaughton, Neal Peden and Gary O’Kane, admits the county is not ready to take on the big guns at this stage.

“We were consulted on it, it’s probably the first thing we’ve actually been consulted on. We sat down and debated our viewpoints on it, and we were very strongly for the competition.

“I would say all the other teams feel the same – Meath, Westmeath, Kerry, Laois and Carlow, we’d all look at it sensibly.

“We always want to be at the top. When we were playing, we argued so many times and there were times we were right and times we were wrong.

“We pulled this blanket down and said we should be in the Liam MacCarthy and in this All-Ireland semi-final every year, but truthfully we weren’t good enough to be in it.

“Nobody wants to watch a dead-rubber match where Antrim comes in and plays Kilkenny in the first round of the Liam MacCarthy.

“We’re not anywhere near that level. If we can get in here, win the matches in it and establish ourselves, then we’ll be kicking doors.

“But I honestly think you can’t kick doors until you’re ready for them to open. We’re sensible enough to know that at this moment in time.”

Despite a reduction from 66 to 60 in the percentage of delegates needed in favour of a proposal for it to pass, the introduction of counter-proposals from a number of counties has led to speculation that none of the ideas for reform will get through.

Tipperary, Dublin and Cork have all put forward their own ideas for the alteration of the championship structures but McKinley feels that the Central Council option is best for all.

“We’d prefer to see the new system through. We think it would be a challenge and something we would look forward to and relish.

“You just can’t leave hurling the way it is and look after the elite. It would be a gunk to us if it didn’t go through.”

There are also motions regarding reform for the under-21 and minor grades, with “agreed Ulster counties” potentially looking at entering the Leinster Championship.

Loughgiel native McKinley feels that the routine hammerings taken by the Ulster champions at under-21 level have left a damaging impact on players coming through.

“Look at the under-21s as a prime example of going in too deep. Does that hurt players? You better believe it. It scars them.

“When we sit down with the players, we’ll say to them that if we commit and get our levels up, there’s a good possibility we could win that and move Antrim forward, and raise the profile.

“We’re in a good Division 1B of the League and that will be tough, but it’s exciting for us. But to sit down in front of players and tell them you’ll play Cork or Kilkenny or Tipperary in the first round, you tell me how you motivate those players for that?

“It’s impossible. You’re basically talking bullsh*t to them. They’re not going to say to you they’re not up for the challenge but inside they feel that way.”

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