Sunday 4 December 2016

How is prize for finishing in 10th place in the hurling league better than the one for fifth?

Published 23/03/2016 | 02:30

Despite the best efforts of Galway’s Paul Hoban, left, and Aidan Harte, seen here tackling Austin Gleeson of Waterford at Walsh Park on Sunday, the Tribesmen are facing a play-off after finishing fifth in Division 1A. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Despite the best efforts of Galway’s Paul Hoban, left, and Aidan Harte, seen here tackling Austin Gleeson of Waterford at Walsh Park on Sunday, the Tribesmen are facing a play-off after finishing fifth in Division 1A. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

It has long been a mantra of various groups examining All-Ireland championship reform that if the GAA were starting out now, it wouldn't base the premier competition on a provincial basis.

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That's because of the different number of counties in each province, which causes an inherent unfairness, while also making it difficult to streamline club programmes.

"No, no, we'd do it much differently now - all fair and balanced as it should be" - that's what we're repeatedly told.

Really? There are no historical or geographical constraints attached to the Allianz Leagues, which can be organised in a straightforward manner, based on performance levels.

It works smoothly in football which has four divisions of eight and a two-up/two down promotion/relegation system.

Hurling? Now that's different. In fact, the system is so ridiculous that it makes the much-criticised championships look like the perfect model of good sense. Where do we start with hurling's logic-defying format?

How about where the reward for finishing 10th (Offaly) is greater than for finishing fifth (Galway)?

Offaly are in the quarter-finals from a fourth-place finish from 1B, having lost a game more than Galway, who were in the much more competitive 1A. However, Galway finished fifth in 1A, just outside the quarter-final cut-off.

Wexford, who finished above Offaly on scoring difference only, are also in the quarter-finals after losing three of five games. If bestowing the exact same status on the top four in 1A and 1B (they all qualify for the quarter-finals) were the only anomaly, it might pass as a one-off peculiarity, but there are several others too which makes a mockery of the league principle.

Galway beat Cork comfortably, finished four points ahead of them on the table and have a vastly superior scoring difference but the reward - or more accurately, the punishment - for being outside the top four in 1A is the same. Galway and Cork must meet in a play-off to decide who drops to 1B.

So too in 1B, where Kerry beat Laois, finished four points ahead of them and had a better scoring difference, but must still face a relegation play-off.

Now you might expect that since Galway and Kerry were ahead of Cork and Laois respectively on three key criteria, they would be guaranteed home advantage for the play-offs. You would be wrong.

Instead, there was a toss for venue which, as it happens, fell right for Galway and Kerry. Even a spinning coin knows what's fair and what's not!

If a team finishes bottom of the table after losing every game, there should be no opening for a reprieve from relegation, let alone two chances, as in the case with Laois.

Having lost all five 1B games, they face Kerry in a relegation-play off and if they lose that, they will play the 2A winners (Carlow or Westmeath) to decide divisional placings next season.

Why is there such reluctance to let the tables decide the difference between 1B and 2A.

Instead, one 1B county is given two shots at avoiding the drop? And if it applies there, why not between 1A and 1B?

Then, there's Limerick's situation. Despite being Munster champions in 2013 and All-Ireland semi-finalists in 2014, they have been unable to get into the six-county 1A group in recent years.

Fair enough, you might say, but how does it make sense from any perspective that Limerick, who are sixth All-Ireland favourites this year, haven't played Kilkenny or Tipperary in the league since 2010? Surely, those are the type of games the players and public want?

Alternative

A far better alternative to the current system is eight-county Divisions 1 and 2.

If it applied this year, the groups would have been as follows:

Div 1: Kilkenny, Waterford, Dublin, Tipperary, Galway, Cork, Clare, Limerick.

Div 2: Wexford, Offaly, Kerry, Laois, Carlow, Westmeath, London, Antrim.

Obviously, quarter-finals would be dispensed with but then they were only introduced to give counties more than the five games guaranteed in six-team groups. Semi-finals could go too, similar to the situation that will apply in football from next year.

The hurling league underwent numerous changes over the last 20 years, yet has ended up with possibly the worst format of all under a number of headings.

Don't blame Croke Park - they are merely implementing what Central Council, which has representatives from all 32 counties, has decided.

Frankly, it's a serious indictment of that group that the best they can come up with is a system riddled by serious anomalies.

Hurling and hurlers deserve better.

Irish Independent

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