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GAA chiefs target 'top 12' with hurling funding

By Declan Bogue

The decision to award €1 million (£825,000) of funding to what might come under the bracket of 'middle-tier' hurling counties, including Antrim, could be the start of a project of raising standards across the board, according to the current President and Director General of the GAA.

Explaining the mechanism by which four counties – Antrim, Laois, Carlow and Westmeath – will be able to access additional funding, Liam O'Neill and Paraic Duffy explained that the motivation is to create a 'top 12' rather than top 10 of teams competing for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

The GAA have released a paper explaining their rationale, saying that while hurling at the very highest level appears as exciting and attractive as ever, "if the game is to maximise its appeal in the long term, it will be necessary to expand the number of counties who can compete at a meaningful level in the senior championship."

It names Tipperary, Waterford, Galway, Dublin, Clare, Kilkenny, Cork, Limerick, Wexford and Offaly as the 10 'genuine' championship contenders, but then poses the question, "It is all well and good for the 10 teams in question, but is that the best that the game can do?

"Of course a 'new' All-Ireland winner gives a boost to the game. But how new would a victory for one of the top 10 really be? Another way to give the championship, and the game, broader appeal is to cultivate a few more counties to compete consistently with the elite 10."

As a result, the four teams identified as in a good position to make that step up will be able to draw on collective funds of €900,000 (£742,000) over the next five years, with a further €100,000 (£82,000) put into player development projects in other Hurling Development counties.

This level of investment is subject to annual submissions from the four counties, reflecting key aims and objectives of the programme, by November of each year, in order to avail of an annual grant of €45,000 (£37,000). This will not come in the form of a one-off payment, but will be made by Central Council to suppliers on the basis of invoices received.

In return, each county must commit to a minimum spend of €10,000 (£8,000) per annum on improving and enhancing hurling development at minor and under-21 level within the county.

A new, dedicated national Hurling Development Work Group, reporting directly to the Management Board, will be established and a committee in each county will also take on responsibilities of driving this programme.

The normal costs that a team may incur, ie meals, playing gear etc, are not intended for the new funds. Neither will capital projects such as dressing rooms and hurling walls. However, in the case of Antrim, some allowances may be made in respect to hotel and travel costs.

In conclusion, the report reads, "The programme can be judged a success if two or three of the counties are firmly established in a new 'top 12' within five years. Specifically, that will mean they are regulars in Division One, and have recorded three championship wins over top tier counties in six years."

During a radio interview broadcast on Saturday, All-Ireland-winning Dublin manager Jim Gavin said he felt that racist or sectarian abuse should be addressed with a year-long ban.

Meanwhile, Congress passed Motion 60, which was to red card any player who would, 'act by deed, word or gesture of a racist, sectarian or anti-inclusion/diversity nature.'

The vote was carried with a 95.5% share, delighting O'Neill.

"We want to be inclusive, we want to be up there with organisations that show 100 per cent respect," he said.

"We didn't trumpet it but it's a very significant motion. Couple that with the black card for abuse of a player or opponent and also unfair comment to a referee – those we got in first.

"If we can cut out low level abuse, that cuts off the conduit to which racism and sectarianism flow afterwards."

He continued, "The combined effect of that will be very significant. We don't want to go on about it, but we've got the means now by which we can handle it."

Elsewhere, a Central Council meeting that is to be held on March 22 will determine the future for any under-16 players who are part of their county minor panel after a Tipperary Motion outlawing that practice was carried by the slender margin of two per cent.

It was thought that the rule might come into effect instantly, but there will be a proposal to defer it for a year.

"I think Central Council would be very sensitive to that, so there's a meeting on March 22.

"I would imagine it would be discussed there but there is the option of bringing the rule in from January 1 next year," explained Paraic Duffy.

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