Leinster Council set to discuss provincial hurling expansion for 2021

Six or eight teams could be competing in the province within two years.

EXPANDING THE LEINSTER SHC to six or eight teams will be considered at a Leinster Council meeting next week according to chairman Jim Bolger.

Mark Kavanagh with Paul Greville Laois and Westmeath are among the counties that would benefit from a move. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Among the options the Leinster Council will consider is a straightforward expansion of the current system to include six teams, while two groups of four will also be explored which would involve introducing an extra three counties into top-tier hurling.

Laois’s shock victory over Dublin in the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final last weekend prompted further calls for the eastern province to allow a sixth side in the competition.

“We have a Leinster council meeting next week and we will discuss it at that,” said Bolger at yesterday’s PwC player of the month awards.

“I suppose in one respect, if you have six teams, it is ran off in the same time-frame and it is the same for everybody, rather than having two weeks of a rest before the next big game, so we can look at it in that context.

“This hasn’t come up today or yesterday. I even mentioned at looking at having two groups of four at one stage because we were looking at Carlow, Laois, Offaly and Westmeath, we felt they had closed the gap to a level that allowed us to look at that option.

“It is timely to review it now and we will look at what options are available to us. We will know next week what the feeling is when the counties go together.”

On the prospect of two groups of four coming into play, Bolger said: “I am certainly conscious of the impact of yo-yoing for one team and with all due respect, maybe Laois could stay up there next year.

“But look at what happened at Offaly already, after coming down last year and Carlow are this year’s Offaly, at present. What Carlow would have learnt this year may be lost by going back to the McDonagh.

“So, to ensure teams are able to sustain what they have learnt by going up to the top level, the pace of the game and the skills they would have honed, it may not be beneficial for them to go straight back down. It is easier to sustain that level against stiffer opposition, with all due respect to the McDonagh group.

Jim Bolger Leinster Council chairman Jim Bolger. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“We threw that out and looked at the model and looked at what might work for us, even tying in with the McDonagh and having the bottom team in each group coming down into the McDonagh semi-finals, so the best team comes up out of those four.

“We were just teasing it out and discussing it. We will have a chat about it next Tuesday night and see what the feeling is from the relevant counties.”

Bolger admitted that such a change would come too soon for next season as the change must go through Congress.

“We are looking at 2021. We have to bring this to Congress so it won’t kick in til the following year. We are bound by rules in that sense.
“We don’t have enough representation at (Special Congress), so we are bound by that.

“We will see what the feeling is next week, how strong the feeling is for or against it and if it is really strong for it, we will look at the options then.

“But it looks like we will have to go full Congress and then it will kick in the following year.

“We need to look at everything and discuss it but we will do so with more focus now that there seems to be more momentum in that regard.”

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