Westmeath hurling manager and former Waterford boss Michael Ryan says the Leinster championship should not be expanded to six teams, insisting Offaly will benefit from time spent in the second-tier.
Offaly were relegated to the Joe McDonagh Cup last Sunday and Ryan is adamant there should be no tweaking of structures during the off-season so to allow the Faithful County remain at hurling’s top table in 2019.
There’s a strong chance it will be Westmeath who replace Offaly in next year’s Leinster SHC, as Ryan’s charges have booked their place in the Joe McDonagh Cup decider with a round to spare. They’ll also feature in an All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final later in the summer. Either Carlow or Antrim will join Westmeath in the final, with the winners earning promotion to the 2019 Leinster SHC.
Kevin Martin’s Offaly endured a torrid time within the new provincial system, losing their four games by an average of 15 points. In the last fortnight alone, they fell to Wexford and Dublin by 24 and 17-points respectively.
Offaly weren’t aided by the schedule, admittedly, with Martin noting after Sunday’s 2-24 to 0-13 loss away to Dublin that playing four weekends in a row was a “killer”.
Dublin boss Pat Gilroy, speaking after his team relegated Offaly, advocated the county hold onto their place in the Leinster SHC. Ryan, though, doesn’t believe Leinster should become a six-team competition.
For Westmeath and, indeed, the remaining five counties in the Joe McDonagh, this weekend’s final set of round-robin fixtures will be their fifth outing in six weekends. No county was asked to play four games in as many weekends and that shouldn’t be the case in either Leinster or Munster.
“The structures are absolutely brilliant. You have several tiers, whereas you don’t in football. Far for me to comment on football, but it would appear that teams are out of their depth. The only thing that needs to be changed is having two weeks between games… once the teething issues are ironed out, there is a big future for hurling.”
By Eoghan Cormican
Sports Reporter Irish Examiner