Waterford county board chairman, Paddy Joe Ryan. Photo: Sean Byrne.
County board chairman Paddy Joe Ryan was stunned by Saturday’s vote at Special Congress to create two provincial groups of five on a three-year trial basis. With every Munster county, apart from Limerick, backing the status quo, the 62% support received for the Central Council motion caught him by surprise.
“Waterford, Cork, Tipperary and Clare in Munster and we’re led to believe that all the hurling counties in Leinster (Kilkenny, Wexford, Laois, Offaly and Carlow) were all against it. It was forced in by the football counties basically. Absolute unbelievable disappointment.”
From next season, Waterford will fulfil two home and two away games with the top three counties progressing to the All Ireland series. Ryan shares Ger Loughnane’s concern that two big teams in Munster and two big teams in Leinster will be finished by the first weekend of June.
At the September county board meeting, club delegates were resistant to the new proposals and voted to retain the current hurling format. “It was unanimous at a well-attended meeting of the county board and nobody voted against it at the executive meeting either.” The redesigned senior football championship has ground to a halt at present with a December county final now a distinct possibility. With the new Munster series due to commence in early May, Ryan foresees further difficulties in completing club fixtures on schedule. “It’s a huge source of embarrassment to me, we have a great senior football championship and we’re struggling to finish it. I can’t see this new championship improving the situation unless, perish the thought, that we don’t make it out of the Munster round robin. It’s going to be a lot tougher on teams next year, you’ll have massive competition in Munster for three places. The clubs are definitely going to suffer. We’re not making things better for the clubs. I’m still shocked over what happened.”
As regards hosting two major provincial fixtures next summer, the restricted capacity at Walsh Park concerns the chairman. “Our first preference would be to play the matches in Walsh Park but then only 12,000 people can get in there. We’ve just come out of a €650,000 debt in this county. The county board is now debt free. Clubs will be slow to go into debt again and they need a breather. We have fifty clubs and some of them are struggling. The GAA is all about clubs.”
Ryan is reluctant to burden Déise clubs but financial assistance will be sought from elsewhere to renovate the city ground. “We’re talking about redeveloping Walsh Park over the last two or three years. This is ongoing, this didn’t start now. We all know that into the future something has to be done about Walsh Park. We’ve met Croke Park and the Munster Council on numerous occasions. On the night of the homecoming in Waterford, I appealed to the politicians. We don’t expect the huge funding that Cork got from government but we would be expecting government assistance for a new stadium in Walsh Park.”
If Walsh Park isn’t ready to stage its first Munster championship match since 2003, he reckons that Waterford should have the option to choose a neutral venue. “I would expect that if Walsh Park wasn’t acceptable to the powers that be for whatever reason that we would be nominating some other ground as our home ground. We must have some say in our destination. That’s just my own opinion. This took us by surprise. I’m amazed. I think that all the major hurling counties are shocked over this with the exception of Galway, Limerick and Antrim.”