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Spring Series not worth losing over hurling schedule

THERE have been several 'victims' caught up in the supposedly informed debate seeking a reformed Allianz Hurling League that ended up with the deformed structure originally backed 11 months ago.

Here's another one we can add to the mix ... the Spring Series.

The provisional fixtures for next year's hurling league – understandably delayed by all the recent dithering over what format to implement – leaked into the public domain midweek and for Dublin 'dual' fans it quickly became apparent that there are no double-up 'home' weekends for their football and hurling icons.

Ergo, with no obvious double-headers leaping off the master fixtures plan, the Spring Series could be on its last legs.

This would be a shame, of course, because the concept of playing Dublin's home league matches in Croke Park clearly works best when you have two Sky Blue matches on the same Saturday night bill. When you have just one, as dwindling attendances suggest, it's debatable whether it works at all.

Last season, with the demotion of Anthony Daly's men to Division 1B, the Spring Series became a much harder 'sell' and thus we only had one hurling/football double-header at Croke Park: the Dubs versus Limerick hurlers and Tyrone footballers.



On the flip side, Dublin did benefit from Kildare's capacity headaches surrounding St Conleth's Park. This allowed the Spring Series to be launched with an attractive football double-header: Kildare versus Donegal followed by Dublin versus Cork. Jim Gavin's successful drive towards that long-elusive league crown was further bolstered by the unfair advantage of having five of their seven regulation fixtures staged at Croke Park, once Kildare/Dublin was switched to HQ.

But just because Dublin gained a questionable advantage in 2013 doesn't mean they should be punished in 2014.

And in a way, that's how it reads when you consider the hurlers have just two guaranteed home games next spring, neither of which facilitates the staging of a double-header with the footballers.

If the provisional NHL fixtures become reality, Dublin hurlers will host All-Ireland champions Clare on Sunday, February 23 (a free weekend for the footballers) and then Kilkenny on Saturday night, March 15, with the footballers pencilled in to face Derry away the following afternoon.

Do the maths. Or, as county board chairman Andy Kettle told the Herald yesterday: "There is a bit of wriggle room but not very much. As it stands, it would make it very difficult to go ahead with the Spring Series."



No wonder then, from a purely selfish perspective, that Dublin preferred the expanded Division 1A hurling model – comprising eight teams, with Cork and Limerick added to the mix. This proposal briefly flourished in early autumn only to wither on the vine of ... well, either Offaly's and Wexford's fury; or general envy/outrage at a perceived 'stroke' by the relegated Rebels; or even confusion as other structures (too many and complicated to mention here) started to gain traction.

The end result, though, is the proverbial canine's carvery of a hurling league for 2014 following last Saturday's daft bout of revisionism. By reverting to their original decision of last December, the wise men of the Central Council have retained this year's six-team Division 1A and 1B format but with one ridiculous add-on: quarter-finals.

Thus, we've been bequeathed a breeding ground for anomalies such as this: a team finishing fifth in the overall standings won't qualify for the league quarter-finals and will instead face a relegation play-off whereas a team finishing 10th overall (fourth in 1B) will reach the knockout stages.

We could go on, but life is too short. At least Central Council might do the decent thing and belatedly devise a decent NHL formula for 2015 ... oops, this latest concoction has been voted in for three years. Enough to make you laugh out loud – or sob in silence.