Thursday 21 November 2019

Cyril Farrell: 'Limerick need to keep their rivals down by hitting the league full on'

Expert View

Cian Lynch has been named at midfield for Limerick's opening league game against Wexford. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Cian Lynch has been named at midfield for Limerick's opening league game against Wexford. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

What are the odds that after such a good winter so far, all will change now that the league is back?

We all remember what happened last year when bad weather in February and March seriously disrupted the fixtures, eventually forcing the competition's hurling final to be put back a week later than scheduled.

Even then, the Division 1 final was played on April 8, which is a lot earlier than in the past.

I continue to be at a complete loss to understand what the hell is going on with fixture planning.

So much is being squeezed into January to March and then April is supposed to be left free for clubs, even if some counties organise no championship action and most others play only a game or two. It's complete nonsense.

And now we have the All-Ireland hurling final on the second last Sunday in August, followed by the football final two weeks later, closing out the inter-county season two weeks earlier than used to the case.

Who exactly benefits from this? Other sports, of course, as they get to dominate the print, broadcast and television media for rest of the year. Do the GAA's power-brokers not realise the damage that can do to their games?

All this is relevant to the start of the league this weekend. Whatever about football, hurling needs the best weather and ground conditions it can get, yet the entire league is jammed into seven weeks, all before the clocks are even switched to summer time.

GAA Newsletter

Expert GAA analysis straight to your inbox.

On top of that, we have the third level colleges' competitions thrown into the hectic mix. The end result is that college players who are on county panels face ridiculous pressures.

Burnout? You'll hear and read plenty about the damaging impact but when it comes to compiling fixtures, it obviously doesn't figure.

I'm not blaming those who draw up the schedules. They have to work to specific instructions, one of which is that no inter-county games of any importance be played after the All-Ireland finals.

Why so? If a few rounds of the league were played in October/November, as used to be the case up to 20 years ago, it would release all of the intolerable pressure that builds up at this time of year.

The league could start later and not clash to any great degree with third level competitions, unlike the madness that prevails now.

And before there's a chorus of 'what about the clubs?' most county finals are played by mid-October (and if they aren't they should be), with the winners moving on to the provincial championships.

Whenever the league is played, counties experiment so it would be no big deal to start without players from the county champions, as happened for well over three decades.

All but two teams are finished in the championship by the end of July, so what would be wrong with resuming inter-county action in the second half of October?

The current system of having periods jammed with inter-county games, followed by months with none, would only make sense if it helped deliver a programme that kept club players happy, but clearly that is not the case.

Instead, we have the worst of both worlds which benefits nobody. In fact, it does the very opposite.

For now though, we're stuck with a January start to the league and, while certainly not being ideal, it will still stir the pulses.

Hurling had such a great season last year that you'd wonder if it can be replicated. Yet, when you look at how even so many teams are, there's every reason to be optimistic.

There's always big interest in how the reigning All-Ireland champions fare, especially ones that have ended a long spell without winning the title, so the spotlight will be very much on Limerick in the coming weeks.

Talking to some of their supporters at race meetings over the last few months, I get the impression that they believe it would be better for the team to cruise through the League and put everything into the championship.

I disagree and I suspect John Kiely does too. Yes, of course, the championship is the priority, but the best way to go into the Munster campaign is as All-Ireland AND league champions. Show the rest of the country: we did it last summer and we did it this spring too.

This is a young Limerick squad with low mileage so why not stretch themselves over the coming weeks? If any county wants a template of how to follow up on an All-Ireland win, all they need to do is look at Kilkenny.

Brian Cody never throttled them back in the league during their dominant years, winning it several times. Nor has Jim Gavin eased down Dublin footballers in the league.

Both Kilkenny and Dublin work on the basis that if you're on top, you stay there, whatever the season. Don't let your rivals build confidence. Keep them down as much as possible.

I suspect that will be Limerick's plan too. They were understandably irked by suggestions that luck played a big part in last year's All-Ireland win, the argument being that Galway's underperformed on the day.

That's disrespectful to Limerick. Granted, Galway didn't play as well as they have in the past but maybe that was down to the way Limerick went about their business.

Anyway, it's all playing into Limerick's hands now. Thanks to the doubting Thomas brigade, they have a new incentive and I'll be very surprised if that isn't evident in the coming weeks.

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: 'Jim Gavin has achieved what Mick O'Dwyer and Brian Cody couldn't do'

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport