Time flies. It is 11 years since Galway opted to play in the Leinster Championship, initially on a trial basis of three years. A big leap for Galway hurling at the time, which had been resisted by many, it is now an accepted system for Galway. It has not been all plain sailing, such as the lack of home games, request for equal financial status and representation on the Leinster Council, but on the field Galway has contested seven finals and won the title final three times. The 2018 Leinster round-robin game between Galway and Kilkenny at Pearse Stadium in Salthill was Galway’s first home Leinster Championship match. It was the first provincial championship game, excluding the Connacht championship, to take place in County Galway since 1965.
The big question on hurling followers' lips over the past week has surrounded the invitation to Galway's hurlers by the Leinster Council to play in the Leinster championship of 2004.
In recent years there has been much speculation on the future of Galway hurling. The introduction of Galway would certainly add spice to the Leinster championship, but whether or not it would be good for the development of hurling in the county is another question.
While the Munster championship has improved with a return to the classic encounters of old, Leinster has turned into a one-horse race.
After several barren years Kilkenny are now almost untouchable. Main rivals Wexford and Offaly are still a good bit away from being serious challengers. Dublin and Laois have raised their standards, but they still have some way to go before they can be regarded as title contenders at the highest level.
The decline in hurling was listed as a major concern by incoming GAA president Sean Kelly during his inaugural address when taking over from Sean McCague last weekend at the annual congress in Belfast. Kelly, who is the first president from the football heartland of Kerry, was also a former Munster Council president and is familiar with the pulling power of hurling when played at the top level. He has watched the development in his province of Limerick, Waterford and particularly Clare. As a result Kelly is expected to call for more finance to develop hurling in the weaker counties.
Galway are likely to deliberate long and hard before making a decision to move to Leinster. From 1961 to 1969 Galway played in the Munster championship and many observers believe it set Galway hurling back.
Galway appeared in a few All Ireland finals during that time, but it was not until they came out of Munster that the Tribesmen were seen again at national level.
Having been swallowed up in the Munster campaign, they came good again after winning the All Ireland u-21 hurling title in 1972, taking two National League titles in the seventies, and appearing in two All Ireland senior finals that eventually led to that historic breakthrough in 1980.
Galway are now stronger than they were when they moved into Munster in 1961, and it is unlikely they will make any rash decision to jump.
While the invitation by Leinster is gracious and will be welcomed in several quarters, it will be treated with caution before any sliotar is hit in the Leinster championship of 2004.