The split matches get underway this weekend and their three-point reward ensures all four divisions are far from determined at either the top or the bottom ends.
There was a climactic feel to preparations for round 11 (for Division 1 and 2 competitors anyway) of the Louth club leagues last weekend. We’ve become so accustomed to that being the finishing post.
Personally, having missed seven matches through injury, there was a sinking feeling. It was almost as if the season was practically over by my proper return date when, in fact, another five games definitely lay around the corner.
The split matches get underway this weekend and their three-point reward ensures all four divisions are far from determined at either the top or the bottom ends. But is cutting the leagues in half a satisfactory manner in which to conclude?
I had a chat with a selector of another club fairly recently and he reckoned that there ought to be an additional, complete round of matches for extra points. That way, he felt, all clubs would have their county players for at least one game against every opponent.
Now, 22 matches would be a fair challenge for fixture-makers and with there being an injury crisis the like of which has never been seen before, it’s an unrealistic expectation.
But that’s not to say the idea isn’t a good one – just the leagues would have to be tailored to suit.
In Monaghan, who are seeking a repacement for Seamus McEnaney (cutout) as senior team boss, there are 10-team divisions from senior to junior. In Louth, there are 12 in the top two tiers, with the bottom rung being split into a six and eight team sections respectively.
Well, how about ordering Louth’s 38 clubs into four leagues with 10 teams in Divisions 1, 2 and 3, with the remaining eight, as per the moment, in Division 4?
You would still be starting your leagues at the same time and clubs would be aware that they could be minus their Louth stars until after round nine at the latest. Have your holiday period between the closing outing of phase one and the beginning of the three points for a win programme, which would also comprise of nine fixtures. You would have a full hand to choose from for these.
And what you’d be guaranteed is highly competitive leagues with little to nothing between the majority of teams.
Based off the tables at the minute, it would mean the following:
Division 1: Newtown Blues, St Mochta’s, Ardee St Mary’s, Mattock Rangers, St Bride’s, Naomh Máirtín, St Patrick’s, St Fechin’s, Sean O’Mahony’s, Geraldines.
Division 2: Dreadnots, Cooley Kickhams, Dundalk Gaels, St Kevin’s, O Raghallaighs, Hunterstown Rovers, Dundalk Young Irelands, Roche Emmets, Kilkerley Emmets, St Joseph's.
Division 3: Clan na Gael, O’Connell’s, Naomh Fionnbarra, Oliver Plunket’s, Glen Emmets, Lannléire, Na Piarsaigh, Glyde Rangers, Naomh Malachi, Westerns.
Division 4: Stabannon Parnells, Wolfe Tones, St Nicholas, John Mitchel’s, Annaghminnon Rovers, Dowdallshill, Cuchulainn Gaels, Sean McDermott’s.
Now these gradings aren’t definitive and purely for the purposes of this piece, but the structure is surely worth taking a look at?
There’s no reason why you couldn’t play league matches in between the group and knockout stages of the championship, if that’s what was required. And why couldn’t promotion/relegation play-offs go ahead in the aftermath of the championship?
Not since the restructure in 2006 has there been a double rounded format across all of Louth’s adult leagues.
If nothing else, playing everybody home and away levels the playing field in that every competitor has the same quantity of matches on their own turf.
Plus, you’ll have your top players for more than half of the games – in all likelihood.
You could continue to start the leagues as per the current system, or maybe even earlier if the Sheelan Cup and Mullen Shield competitions were condensed.
For all the injuries and absences this season, one thing you won’t hear any player giving out about the ratio of matches to training. Lads want games, supporters want games and clubs benefit from the resultant income.
Eighteen league matches is only two more than the current 16. It’s got to be worth talking about.