Tuesday 23 July 2019

Fanning and Kenny have room to settle in two-tier 1B

Clear split in quality will give new managers room to breathe as they keep an eye on next year's restructure

Waterford's Páraic Fanning. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Waterford's Páraic Fanning. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It could be argued that the only substantial item on the agenda in 1B of the Allianz Hurling League is which of Carlow, Laois or Offaly are relegated to Division 2.

One of them looks certain to make the drop, another will reach the quarter-finals, while the third will be in between, disappointed over missing the knockout stages but delighted to have retained a place in Division 1.

With promotion between the top two groups scrapped this year in order to make way for the new format next season, there's no longer a major incentive to top 1B.

The top four will all qualify for the quarter-finals, joining their equivalents in 1A. Barring an unprecedented upheaval in form patterns, Dublin, Galway and Waterford will reach the last eight on autopilot, accompanied by one of the other three.

Despite the imbalance in 1B, it's a difficult group to top. Limerick failed for many years prior to last season when they finally negotiated an escape as winners after beating pre-season favourites Galway in the last round.

It was the second successive year that Galway failed to win the group (Wexford beat them to it in 2017) but then the stigma of being in 1B no longer applied.

Waterford (2015), Clare (2016) and Galway (2017) won the title outright after being in 1B, leading credence to the theory that being in the second group was no bad thing for teams of that stature.

Indeed, it came to be regarded as something of an advantage. Whereas the six teams in 1A faced five hard games, which allowed little room for experimenting with new players, the top three in 1B could deploy the full panel safe in the knowledge that quarter-final places were still readily available.

Get FREE tickets to The Throw-In Live in Wexford in association with Bord Gáis Energy Click here for details

The introduction of the round-robin system in the Leinster and Munster championships last year prompted a rethink on the league format, with 1A counties arguing that the hectic nature of their spring programme wasn't the best preparation for their summer campaigns.

Combine

Dublin manager Mattie Kenny. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Mattie Kenny. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Hence, the Central Council decision to combine 1A and 1B so that stronger and weaker teams were in each group.

The Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) pointed out in advance of the meeting that the gap in standards between those at the bottom end of 1B and the six in 1A would lead to mismatches.

"In previous league structures of this nature those teams (lower end of 1B) have frequently been the recipients of heavy defeats at the hands of the stronger teams.

"This situation is unlikely to change in the new structure so there is likely to be a loss of overall competitiveness in comparison to recent years," noted the CCCC in their submission.

Despite that, Central Council decided to re-structure Division 1 from next year, with finishing places this season deciding the make-up of each group as follows: Group A: 1st 1A; 4th 1A; 6th 1A; 2nd 1B; 3rd 1B; Promoted 2A team.

Group B: 2nd 1A; 3rd 1A; 5th 1A; 1st1B; 4th 1B; 5th 1B.

Despite the good record 1B winners had in recent years, pride ensured that 1A teams did all they could to avoid relegation. Similarly, 1B sides worked hard for promotion, but with no such prize this year, much of the potential for drama has been removed.

Still, with Dublin (Mattie Kenny) and Waterford (Páraic Fanning) both under new management and Galway determined to make a positive start, the three-way battle between them will be interesting.

So too, albeit at a different level, will be the contests involving Offaly, Carlow and Laois.

Offaly made a great start last year, easily beating Dublin in the first round in Croke Park, but it turned out to be a false dawn as they won only once more (v Laois) in nine subsequent outings.

There is very little between Offaly, Laois and Carlow, as will be shown over the next five weeks.

Irish Independent

The Throw-In: D-Day looms in Castlebar, Jim Gavin’s plan for Diarmuid Connolly and the future of the Super 8s

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport