GAA president Nickey Brennan has called on counties to put the greater good of hurling ahead of their own narrow interests by accepting the latest proposals to revamp the All-Ireland championships.
A Special Congress will vote on the Hurling Development Committee (HDC) proposals next Saturday week amid growing fears that they will be rejected. Dublin have already publicly declared their intention to oppose the plan to add Galway and Antrim to the Leinster championship.
Kilkenny are supporting the initiative but Dublin and Wexford are opposing it while other Leinster counties have yet to state their position. Opinion is divided in Galway but Athenry are leading a strong campaign to reject a move to Leinster.
Brennan urged counties to support the proposals for a three-year experimental period and warned that if they were rejected it was unlikely that there would be any more proposals from Croke Park for quite some time.
"If this package is turned down, it will be left to counties to come up with their own proposals. We have done all we can at central level. The HDC consulted far and wide before making these proposals which I would regard as being fair to everybody," he said.
Brennan (pictured), who has supported the concept of Galway playing in Leinster for many years, said that the move had a number of benefits.
"Let’s be honest about the Leinster championship. It hasn’t been performing as it should for a few years and needs a major push. Bringing in Galway and Antrim would give it a fresh impetus. Those who claim that playing in Leinster would do nothing for Galway are missing the point," he said.
"Galway may not get as much satisfaction as Leinster teams from winning the provincial title but they should see it in terms of helping them to win the ultimate prize, the All-Ireland title.
"Galway players and managers have repeatedly said they want to play in Leinster so surely after several years without winning an All-Ireland senior title, despite producing so much talent, it’s worth a try.
"Even if they lose in Leinster, they will get a second chance so I can’t see why there’s a reluctance to give it a go for three years."
"Do Galway people want to keep Joe Canning, one of the best young players in the game, out of championship action until July? I can’t understand that," he said.
Commenting on Dublin’s decision to reject the proposals, he said it was disappointing that they didn’t set their ambitions higher than worrying about the impact Galway would have on their prospects of making progress in the provincial race. As for Wexford, he urged them to look at the bigger picture.
Responding to Westmeath’s complaints that it was unfair to deny them the chance to play in the Leinster campaign while bringing in two outsiders, he said they Ä and other counties Ä had an opportunity to gain promotion to the Liam McCarthy Cup tier by winning the Christy Ring Cup.
"Also, we have to be conscious of doing the best we can for Antrim and Galway. In fairness to Antrim, the system as it applied this year was very hard as it gave them Galway first, followed by Waterford.
"We all accept that it’s difficult to please everybody but we have to think of the greater good of hurling, which the HDC plan does.
"All we’re asking is that the proposed system be given a three-year trial. We’ll know by then whether or not it has improved the championship.
"There’s absolutely nothing to be gained by being negative towards everything that’s proposed without offering alternatives.
"Personally, I believe the latest proposals would go a long way towards providing a fairer and more competitive series within the constraints involved in retaining the Munster and Leinster championships as part of the All-Ireland race. There’s widespread support for retaining the provincials so we have to work with what we have after that.
"I just hope that counties weigh up the proposals on their merits and assess them on what’s in the best interests of the game overall," said Brennan.
If the HDC plan is rejected on Saturday week, this year’s format would apply in 2009. However, Antrim, in particular, would be strongly opposed to that as it would leave them again facing Galway followed (if they lost) by the beaten Munster quarter-finalists.
There will be no opportunity for further adjustments to the system if the latest proposals are turned down as the draws for next year’s provincial championships take place on October 8, four days after Special Congress.