GAA on course to bring back National League semi-final ties
IN A BID to inject some badly needed drama and momentum into the final stages of the National Leagues, the GAA have agreed to reintroduce semi-finals to the competition.
But last weekend's U-turn by Central Council will only apply to Division 1 in the NFL and NHL, and will not apply until the 2012 season as it necessitates a rule change which can only be made by Congress.
For the past three seasons in football, and two in hurling, there were no league semi-finals and the top two counties qualified directly for the final.
That was designed to complete the leagues as early as possible but it was not embraced happily by everyone, especially in hurling where it sometimes lessened the opportunities for meaningful top-tier competition.
The anti-climatic final round of this year's Division 1 NHL threw the problem into sharp focus. Had there been semi-finals, five of the eight teams involved would still have been in contention but, with only the top two to go through, all but one of the games was a 'dead rubber' -- that included the meeting of Cork and Galway, who had both already qualified to meet in the final.
The GAA has repeatedly tinkered with the league format in the past decade in an attempt to find a compromise between the calendar demands of club and county.
Pre-Christmas league games have been ruled out since the early part of the last decade, with the league running from February to May, freeing up the final months of each year for club fixtures, and particularly the demands of the increasingly popular All-Ireland club competitions.
Central Council has the power to decide on league formats but is restricted by rule to running Divisions 1, 2 and 3 over eight weekends. The restoration of the semi-finals will increase the running time to nine weekends, which is why the decision has to be passed by Congress.
Only a couple of months ago there was also the prospect that countdown clocks and hooters would be introduced for the first time in next year's leagues. But this initiative, from a Wexford motion that was passed at April's Congress, has been postponed.
The GAA determined that it would prove too costly (in the region of €250,000) and difficult, logistically, to implement in time for February and there is a suggestion that if it is introduced in 2012 it may only apply to the top two divisions.
The thorny issue of timekeeping was raised again at the weekend when Aherlow boss Liam Kearns complained after his side lost the Munster club semi-final to Dr Crokes, whose centre-back Luke Quinn grabbed a late equaliser which took the game to extra-time; the Kerry club went on to win 2-11 to 0-9.
Quinn's equalising point came 24 seconds after the three minutes of official injury-time had elapsed.
Kearns said it underlined his view that timekeeping badly needs to be taken out of the hands of referees and given to an independent timekeeper.
"It will sound like sour grapes now but I've been on the record about this long before this game," Kearns said. "I've said time and time again and I cannot understand it."
Kearns confirmed he is stepping down as Aherlow manager, saying: "I need a break. I can't take moral victories any more. I can't understand how we didn't win that game."