Monday 17 December 2018

How to win the hurling league - start out in 1B

Micheál Donoghue. Photo: Sportsfile
Micheál Donoghue. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The 'R' word used to carry a stigma but not anymore, certainly in the Allianz hurling League where relegation from Division 1A has become a reliable pathway to winning the title a year later.

The last three winners - Galway, Clare and Waterford - all came from 1B, raising the question of whether strong teams who drop into the lower grouping are better off in the following season than those who remain in the ultra-competitive 1A.

Galway didn't even win promotion from 1B last year, but after finishing second to Wexford they embarked on an eight-match winning run, which brought them league and All-Ireland titles.

Micheál Donoghue and his champions return to 1B action on Sunday against Antrim in Pearse Stadium, followed by clashes with Laois, Offaly, Dublin and Limerick in that order. Four points will be enough to qualify for the quarter-finals so it's highly likely that Galway will be in the last eight by next Sunday week.

Obviously, they will want to maintain their winning run but it wouldn't be a major setback if they were to lose out for promotion to either Limerick or Dublin, who are their biggest rivals for top spot.

After finishing second in 1B last year, Galway beat Waterford, Limerick and Tipperary by a combined total of 32 points. In 2016, Clare won 1B before beating Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford. A year earlier, Waterford came out of 1B to beat Galway, Tipperary and Cork.

Reaching the quarter-finals is much more difficult for 1A sides and with one of the top six also facing relegation, the demands are intense in all five rounds.

It leaves managers with the dilemma of whether to field their top sides in every game in order to give themselves the best possible chance of finishing in the top four or experimenting and risk missing out on a quarter-final place. The bottom two face a relegation play-off.

Life is much less competitive for the better teams in 1B, allowing managers to work with new personnel and tactics, secure in the knowledge that barring a major slump, they will qualify for the quarter-finals quite comfortably. The fact that as many teams from 1B as 1A qualify for the quarter-finals remains a contentious issue.

Irish Independent

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