Monday 27 March 2017

NHL semis return call hits wall of GAA rules

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

CALLS to reintroduce semi-finals in the Allianz National Hurling League to avoid a possible repetition of the meaningless games that applied in Division 1 this year have been rejected because the rules don't allow it.

Nor are there plans to increase the relegation-promotion ratio to two-down/two-up between Divisions 1 and 2.

The structure came under critical scrutiny last April when there was nothing at stake in three of the four Division 1 games in the last round. Cork and Galway had already qualified for the final, yet had to play the final group game.

Both fielded largely second-string teams, which led to a crowd of only 500 -- at a time when counties are strapped for cash -- turning out in Pearse Stadium. Waterford v Kilkenny and Tipperary v Offaly were equally meaningless as all four were safe from relegation but couldn't reach the final. It meant that Dublin v Limerick was the only game of any importance as it decided who would be relegated.

There were calls for the restoration of the semi-finals, involving the top four teams, in order to ensure that the group remained alive to the end. Also, it would provide two extra top-class games. Semi-finals applied up to 2008.

There was support for their return but it won't happen next year at least because it would require a change of rule by Congress. The rule stipulates that the National Leagues must be played off over eight weekends. And since the top two divisions in hurling gives each team seven games, the rules allow only one more weekend to complete the competition.

There has also been criticism over the one-down/one-up relegation/promotion between Divisions 1 and 2 on the basis that some very good teams don't get a chance to play in the top flight.

Limerick were relegated this year to a group that also includes Clare, Laois, Carlow and Antrim. All would like a shot at Division 1 hurling but, with only one promotion, opportunities are severely limited. However, there are no plans to change the current system.

Irish Independent

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