A return to the hurling fields would produce a championship for the ages
ONE thing that is now certain, when the GAA season does resume the Association may be dealing with record attendances at venues across the country.
Let’s be honest and with no disrespect to the other sporting codes, the GAA is the lifeblood of Irish life as far as participation and attendance are concerned.
It seems almost certain too that the National Football and Hurling League will not be completed and a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the championship.
The current hurling championship format is almost certain to have to be changed too.
With a late start, the round-robin format would be unworkable, with just too many games to play.
Therefore the only real alternative in the current health crisis would be a return to the straight knockout format, one throw of the dice, just as it was in an era long gone.
So, if that came to pass you could have Cork and Tipp in a knockout game in Thurles or Páirc Uí Chaoimh and a guaranteed 50,000 attendance.
Hurling fans everywhere would be so starved of activity one could get trampled on in a bid to get a ticket.
It would be a similar story if it was Limerick versus Clare, Waterford versus Cork and so on, games played on a knockout basis.
Imagine Kilkenny versus Wexford in a winner-takes-all opener in Wexford Park.
The provincial championships would regain their lost gloss for so many of the older generation.
The last knock out championship was in 1996, the last time Wexford won the McCarthy Cup.
Liam Griffin was the manager of that Wexford team and comments during the week made interesting reading.
“If that’s what it has to come to again, so be it. For me personally I can recall the thrill of walking out of the dressing saying, this your first chance and your last.
“It was all on the table in those games, all or nothing.
“That was a brilliant approach, you are either good enough or you are not and if you are not good enough you are gone.
“But I agree with the way it is played now”.
“It’s great for the game and great entertainment but I think that knockout competition was something else back then…”
There are many who would agree with Griffin’s comments, the older generation in particular.
As a small child I can remember being in Semple Stadium at 12 o’clock in the morning for a knockout Cork versus Tipp game.
Of course, that was then and this is now and the new provincial hurling format has been a huge success both in Leinster and in Munster.
The big difference according to Griffin between the old and the new is that you can now lose two championship games and still end up with the McCarthy Cup and maybe that is a negative.
One can recall too being in Croke Park for that All-Ireland final in 1996 between Wexford and Limerick and the emotion that surrounded Wexford’s victory after so many years in the wilderness.
Those 1990s finals, Clare in ’95 and ’97 and Wexford in between were occasions for our hurling fans to treasure and being present was privilege like it was two years ago when Limerick came in from the cold.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could see another county make a breakthrough like that, the likes of Laois winning an All-Ireland.
There is nothing to compare with a county regaining an All-Ireland title after a 20-, 30-, 40-year wait.
Cork have now gone 15 years since the last hurling win so you could imagine the scenes on Patrick’s Street if they were to regain it.
One remembers a 12-year gap between 1954 and 1966 and the tumultuous homecoming that followed on the Monday night.
The late Cork hurler John Bennett in action against Waterford in 1966.
The big question now of course, is will they even get the opportunity to do so over the coming months.
To end we will quote from Griffin’s piece again.
“It is has stuck in my mind forever because I have often said some of the lads, we won the last of the knockout championships.”
Maybe that will change soon and we will have another winner of a knockout championship