Promotion to – and fear of relegation from – the senior league has long been a subject of fiery debate in Leinster cricket.

For the first 90 of the union’s 100 years senior status was not earned on the field, instead coming via a complex system of evaluation of performance, facilities and potential. That was the official line anyway – the reality was that clubs were mostly promoted on the basis of horse trading, nodding and winking. And no one was relegated, ever.

I’m sorry, there was one relegation, for 40 minutes, one night in October 1994. Merrion had finished last that summer, and Rush won Senior 2, and under new regulations were duly approved to replace them at the executive meeting. However, Merrion had noticed that while the new rules allowed for promotion and relegation, an old rule covering applying for senior status had not been revoked. They had an application on file and after some debate it was proposed, seconded and agreed.

Had that not happened, Merrion wouldn’t have been able to hand a senior debut the following May to one Edmund Joyce, and Irish cricket history might have followed very different lines.

As Merrion won the league within five years, it was clearly not just a well-meaning reprieve, although it added to the feeling of an old boys’ club in some parts.

“Getting into senior cricket was all to do with patronage,” says Jim Bennett of The Hills club.

The league started in 1919 with eight senior teams, soon losing UCD, County Kildare and the Royal Hibernian Military School but gaining others along the way. There were still eight in 1953, when Malahide were elevated, and the league grew slowly from there, admitting Old Belvedere (1958) and Carlisle (1970).

The north Dublin barony of Fingal had long been a hotbed of the game, producing several leading players. By the mid-1970s its clubs, especially Balrothery, Man O’War, Rush and The Hills, were knocking on the door demanding elevation. The leading Dublin junior club, CYM, also made a strong case.

It was tricky, because there was a reluctance to expand the league without introducing relegation, which made existing clubs uneasy. “Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas”, says Bennett, who also identified a certain snobbery, “because we played cricket a different way in Fingal.”

The Hills made three applications – “in 1978 we were turned down because of inadequate standards of players and facilities, and the size of our square.” All three were acted upon, but again they were rejected.

“In 1982 we mounted a big campaign, realising it was nothing to do with structures and all to do with politics and patronage”, says Bennett. Matt Dwyer waited in one club car park till 10pm to canvass its president when he returned from playing elsewhere. The official was so impressed that he promised his vote on the spot.

The Hills and CYM, now Terenure, were promoted soon after.

“It took us a couple of years to find our feet”, admits Mick Dwyer, The Hills president. “But when we did we were on our way.” By the end of that first decade they had won the league and cup double and this year celebrate their 50th birthday as one of Ireland’s top clubs.

Fingal provided the next growth spurt for the union, with North County – an amalgam of Balrothery and Man O’War – promoted in 1990, soon followed by Rush. The league was restructured in 2010 abolishing senior status, but Balbriggan and, briefly, North Kildare later won elevation.

Cricket Leinster has just unveiled its Vision 2020 which adopts the League Cup structure currently being trialled by the top 14 clubs, splitting them into Premiership and Championship from mid-June. Below that it gets interesting, with Division 3 reserved from 2020 for the next best 1st XIs and Division 4 for the best 2nd XIs.

For 2020, clubs currently outside the top rank will be invited to apply for inclusion in the Championship, with up to two places reserved for them, or in the new eight-team Division 1, whose winners will replace the bottom side in the Championship.

Automatic promotion opens a pathway for ambitious clubs, but while the union is enthusiastically throwing out its invitation, it is also cautious about who it elevates. Clubs will have to satisfy criteria including grounds, youth structures and coaching. Senior cricket is a serious business, and most sides in the top two divisions bring in at least one ‘gun’ player from overseas to boost their playing strength – some have been known to recruit as many as five, and that’s before you get into the locals willing to change clubs for money.

So, while a club may be strong enough to beat weekend amateurs as it rises through the leagues, as soon as it comes up against the Australian or Pakistani pros they realise they’re not in Kansas anymore.

The union is keen to bring two sides into the Championship, which appears unlikely. The two highest placed 1st XIs last season were North Kildare, who had a nightmare taste of Division 2 in 2016-17, and Laois, who are still bedding into their new ground in Stradbally.

The next six clubs, based on placings in Division 4 and 5 in 2018, would be DLR County, Civil Service, Knockharley, Longford, Adamstown and Castleknock. Four of those are based in the capital, where all 14 senior clubs operate, raising the issue of how many clubs the city can sustain. The long-term future is also uncertain: of the 21 clubs outside the top two leagues, more than half didn’t exist a decade ago.

There have been rumblings about the amount of travelling to be done, and that players will no longer get a chance to play at the great city grounds, but the travel involved in the Division 1 outlined above appears no different to the average in any other.

As a way of driving the club game forward, Vision 2020 is ambitious. As Jim Bennett says, “At least now there is a pyramid, something clubs can aspire to”.