File picture: Mark Moloney in action against London
The Kildare and Antrim hurling panels on Thursday night issued a joint statement criticising the Joe McDonagh Cup relegation/promotion playoff fixed for Saturday. They say that competition should stick to a six-team format for next year.
Antrim finished fifth in this year's tournament, and must face Christy Ring Cup champions Kildare in Armagh on Saturday to see who will take the fifth - and final - spot in next year's competition. Meath, who finished last in the Joe McDonagh Cup last year, are automatically relegated to the Christy Ring for next season.
This evening's joint statement read:
Statement on Behalf of Kildare and Antrim Senior Hurling Panels
The players of the Kildare and Antrim Senior Hurling Teams wish to jointly express our discontent with the Joe McDonagh Cup promotion/regleation play-off scheduled for Saturday the 30th of June 2018.
We feel it incumbent on us to highlight the unfairness and inconsideration surrounding this fixture in the hope that we can positively affect change for the future.
The players feel that our opinions in this matter should be heard and considered with our welfare in mind and not disregarded with the simplistic recourse of referencing agreed procedures as this will be perceived by us as a belittling of the respect that should be afforded the players. We are the ones who must go through the stresses and strains of these decisions and wish for our opinions to be valued.
Both panels believe neither team should be required to play in a promotion/relegation play-off for a number of reasons:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
We fully accept that this fixture has been agreed upon and set since before the competitions commenced but these are the views of the players. This statement is an appeal to 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.
The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) subsequently issued a statement saying: "While this particular fixture was agreed as part of the wider GAA Master Fixture Plan released late in 2017, we understand the players frustration at the short turnaround time for Kildare in particular (having just won the Christy Ring cup) before Sunday’s final and at the strain that this places on the players involved. Lessons must be learned from this for next year’s competition.
"We are calling on the GAA to review these competitions in the context of an overall review of the new competitions structure at the end of the year. The GPA must be involved in this review process to ensure that players' voices are heard and taken into account in all decision making on the structure of future competitions."