Monday 16 January 2017

If Duffy's 'round robin' can fly in football, why not in hurling too?

Compelling case for more games in the latter stages of hurling championships

Published 29/10/2016 | 02:30

GAA director-general Páraic Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile
GAA director-general Páraic Duffy. Photo: Sportsfile

Other than timing issues for the championships, including playing both All-Ireland senior finals in August, hurling is not on the agenda for today's Central Council meeting.

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Football will dominate the discussion, specifically Páraic Duffy's proposal that the quarter-finals be scrapped and replaced by a two-group 'round robin'. He believes that the format needs to be refreshed - as indeed do many others.

However, whether restricting it to the last eight is the best option remains unclear, although it would be interesting to see how it worked out, even on an experimental basis.

The football structure has been under scrutiny for a few years, unlike hurling where there's a degree of stability, with four tiers working fairly well.

But is 'fairly well' enough'? The Christy Ring/Nicky Rackard/Lory Meagher Cup competitions are fine but a whole lot more could be extracted from the showcase Liam MacCarthy Cup tier.

What's more, it could be achieved without interfering with the Leinster or Munster championships.

Scrapping them would offer an exciting range of structural choices but since there is no chance of that happening for the foreseeable future, it's pointless proposing anything that interferes with them.

Pressing

In those circumstances, options are limited but if Duffy can propose a 'round robin' in football, why can't it work in hurling too?

In fact, there's a more pressing need in hurling, where the number of championship games is quite small. Once the Leinster 'round robin' clears the way for their quarter-finals, only 21 games remain in the championship (ten provincial, six qualifiers and five for the quarter/semi/final stage).

Introducing a 'round robin' for the last eight adds eight games. A two-group, four-strong 'round robin' takes 12 games to complete but two round two qualifiers and two quarter-finals would no longer apply. Instead the top two in the 'round robin' groups would reach the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Here's a sample of how it could have worked this year, off a last eight of Kilkenny, Tipperary, (provincial winners), Galway, Waterford (provincial runners-up), plus qualifiers Clare, Wexford, Limerick and Cork.

Group 1: Kilkenny, Waterford, Clare, Cork.

Group 2: Tipperary, Galway, Wexford, Limerick.

All counties would have three games. As a reward for the provincial winners, they would be granted two home games. The rest would be guaranteed at least one home game.

The argument that the present system is serving hurling well only holds until such time as a better alternative is put forward.

And if the GAA moves to a 'round robin' in football, hurling can't be excluded.

In fact, there's probably a more compelling requirement in hurling. Under the current system, many rivalries are rarely catered for in the championship, which is ridiculous in a competition that has fewer than ten genuine contenders.

Incredibly, Kilkenny haven't played Clare in the championships since the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final.

Galway and Limerick haven't met since 2005; even then it was a game of no great consequence since both were certain to emerge from a qualifier group that also included Laois and Antrim. Prior to that, Galway and Limerick hadn't clashed since the 1981 All-Ireland semi-final. Galway and Wexford have met only twice in the last 40 seasons and only once in the last 19.

Dublin and Waterford have met twice in 68 years and once in the last ten years, while Kilkenny and Limerick clashed four times in the last 41 years.

It's bizarre that Kilkenny and Clare could go a decade without meeting in the championship, just as it's daft that Galway and Limerick haven't met in a championship match that mattered for 35 years.

But then so many rivalries are under-indulged by the current championship system, which is a great pity.

For while hurling at the top end is populated by no more than ten counties, the margins between most of them are quite small so why not have them play each other more often?

Outrageous

Suggesting extra games would have been regarded as outrageous up to recently (all the pressure was for less inter-county activity) but if the GAA's director-general can advocate it for football, the case must be made for hurling too.

Apart from providing more action for general enjoyment, it would ensure that every county had at least one home game.

That would be very important for Clare, Waterford and Galway, whose prospects of getting a home game depend on them losing in the provincial championships, scarcely a fair or satisfactory situation.

Galway haven't had a home game since a 2011 qualifier against Clare, leaving their supporters forced to take the high road to see Joe Canning, David Burke, Colm Callanan etc.

As for the timing of 'round robin', it would require only one extra weekend, compared to the current format. It would also close the five-week gap for the Leinster and Munster winners between the provincial finals and All-Ireland semi-finals.

If Central Council back Duffy's football plan today, the case for hurling change needs urgent consideration.

Irish Independent

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