Friday 19 January 2018

Be careful what you wish for. . .

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

MICKEY Harte didn't specify who "they" were but he took them on anyway.

"They" didn't publicise before the start of the National Leagues that where two teams finished level on points, the higher placing would go to the county who won the head-to-head battle. This applied for promotion, relegation or a slot in the various divisional finals.

Up to this year, placings were decided on scoring difference, but that will now only apply in the event of three or more teams having equal points. Harte has a personal interest in the change, since Tyrone's survival in Division 1 could hinge on it.

"So they tell us when the season is over. It's unreal that we are playing games of that nature and our season depends on something that nobody has actually told us about," he said.

Mayo manager John O'Mahony said he only heard about the new system last week. "We'll have to check the small print to see if that was told in advance of the league," he said.

So was it a silent strike by the Croke Park power-brokers? Actually no. This particular regulation was changed at Congress last April and arose from a raft of different ideas on the issue which were put forward at the 2008 Congress.


Among them was one from Meath, which proposed that the result of games between two teams should be used to decide placings if they finished level on points.

A rule-book task-force committee reviewed all the suggestions and included the outline of the Meath idea in their recommendations, which were supported by Central Council and voted into rule last April.

I can't recall much opposition to the proposal but, as with so much of what happens at Congress, counties don't react to what they've agreed on until it impacts directly on themselves.

Remember a few years ago when Congress voted to exclude Division 4 teams from the football qualifiers, having got the backing of most of the weaker counties? Bizarrely, Division 4 teams had voted not to give themselves a second chance and rebelled only when they realised the full impact of the decision a year later.

Clearly, there's poor communication between county boards and team managers/ players over various regulations and, as a result, all sorts of misunderstandings arise.

The change to the placings mechanism has caused a degree of controversy but I believe the more important issue is the unfairness of the new system, even if was approved by Congress.

Let's take a few examples. If Tyrone and Monaghan finish level on points -- which is very possible -- after the final round, Monaghan will technically be ahead because they beat Tyrone. If Kerry and Tyrone finish level on points -- which is also quite possible -- Tyrone will be ahead because they won last Saturday night.

In effect, Tyrone, Monaghan or Kerry could be relegated on the basis of how they fared against each other rather than over the full seven rounds. And now to the crucial point.

Monaghan's win over Tyrone was in Inniskeen, while Tyrone's win over Kerry was in Omagh and since both victories were by a single point, it's fair to assume that home advantage was a factor. However, because the divisions are played over seven rounds, there's a 4-3 home and away split, so some counties have an advantage which is supposed to alternate from year to year.

Playing four away games is always a disadvantage (it's 65 to 33 in favour of home wins, with two draws from the 100 football games played so far) -- but doubly so now that placings are decided by head-to-heads.

By the way, why were Kerry away to Tyrone for a second successive year?

Apart from the unfairness of the new system in terms of the advantage to home teams, it has also distorted the final round of games.

Cork and Mayo are both on 10 points at the top of Division 1, with Dublin two points adrift but it's already guaranteed that Cork will be in the final even if they lose to Mayo on Sunday week. If Dublin win and Mayo lose, they will both be on 10 points but, irrespective of scoring difference, Dublin would head for the final because they beat Mayo.

And since Cork beat Dublin, the Leesiders have no real need to take anything from the Mayo game as they will be in the final even if they are well beaten. In effect, Cork have a meaningless game in the final round despite being level with Mayo and only two points ahead of Dublin.

The long-standing scoring-difference system meant that performances over the seven games counted in a tight finish, whereas now one result can decide a county's fate.

Of course, there's no point blaming Croke Park for that, because it's what the counties agreed on.

Admittedly, they may have been asleep at the time -- but that's hardly a valid excuse.

Irish Independent

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