THE newly agreed format for the Allianz Hurling League has thrown up a bizarre anomaly which makes it possible for a county to be crowned Division 1 champions without winning any game in their group.
Central Council voted last Saturday to introduce quarter-finals in 2014, featuring the top four finishers in Divisions 1A and 1B. However, since each group is comprised of six counties, fourth place can be attained without winning any of the five games.
All it would take is for the bottom three to lose all their games to the top three and then draw among each other. That would leave the bottom three on two points each, in which case placings would be decided on scoring difference. The county with the best differential would finish fourth, earning them a place in the quarter-finals.
It may seem like an unusual scenario but the fact that a county can take the title outright without winning any group game points to an inconsistency that doesn't augur well for the ninth league adjustment since 1997 having a longer lifespan than its eight predecessors.
Central Council considered three options for the latest change before opting for the return of quarter-finals. Effectively, it offers the same prize to the top four in 1A and 1B although the groups are formed on merit, based on the previous league tables. Fergal McGill, GAA director of games, said Central Council chose the new system in order to give as many counties as possible at least one extra game in a tough, knockout environment.
"The quarter-finals will produce some very interesting games," he said. "For example, if they were in use this year, Antrim would have had home advantage against Kilkenny in the quarter-final. It would be a great boost for Antrim hurling to host Kilkenny in Casement Park in a knockout game."
The other quarter-finals would have been Limerick versus Tipperary, Waterford versus Clare and Cork versus Offaly.