Sunday 16 December 2018

Martin Breheny: Hurling system glitch so unfair on Dublin

Head-to-head rule ensures only pride will be at stake in Galway clash

Eoghan O’Donnell shows his disappointment after Dublin’s defeat against Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Eoghan O’Donnell shows his disappointment after Dublin’s defeat against Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It should be a great adventure for Dublin hurlers, heading west on Saturday to take on the All-Ireland champions with a genuine chance of remaining in the All-Ireland race.

Instead, their clash with Galway is nothing more than box-ticking for one county who are already in the Leinster final and for another who cannot finish high enough up the table to remain in All-Ireland contention.

Now if Dublin win - and their prospects are enhanced by the likelihood that Micheál Donoghue will avail of the opportunity to test the full depth of the Galway squad - they will finish on four points, the same as the losers of the Kilkenny-Wexford game in Nowlan Park.

They would have a better scoring difference too but would still lose out for third place, which carries qualification for the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-finals.

That's because the head-to-head result decides placings when two teams have equal points and since Dublin lost to both Kilkenny and Wexford, they will be deemed to have finished behind them, even if their scoring difference is better.

In that scenario, Dublin will have been punished on the double for their narrow defeats against Kilkenny and Wexford, losing the points on the day and placings later on. Scoring difference is a much fairer way of separating two teams as it reflects all their games as opposed to one. If Clare lose to Tipperary on Sunday, they could find themselves in the same situation in Munster. A defeat by Tipp and a win over Limerick on Sunday week would leave Clare on four points - the same as Tipperary - but they would be behind them on the head-to-head rule.

The GAA decided some years ago to adopt the head-to-head rule, rather than scoring difference, to decide placings between two counties in the Allianz Leagues and have carried it into the provincial hurling round robins. It needs to be changed, with the Dublin-Galway game showing why.

Instead of Dublin having something to shoot for on Saturday, they are facing into a non-event, where pride is all that's at stake

'Dead rubbers' are new and unwelcome in the championship and since they can never be totally legislated for in any round-robin format, replacing head-to-head with scoring difference makes them much less likely.

That can - and should - be adjusted for next year, while the unfair scheduling which forces some counties to play four games in 21 days, whereas others have a break, also needs to be reviewed.

Stretching the Leinster and Munster Championship by a week or two would sort out that issue.

As for comparisons between the championships, there's no doubt that Munster is delivering far more drama than Leinster, which has run pretty much as anticipated.

Dublin came close to disrupting it early on when they were unlucky not to beat Kilkenny but ultimately all eight games so far have been won by the favourites.

Munster's six games have been more unpredictable, with no county on full points, three draws, some epic comebacks and a large dollop of controversy in the Tipperary-Waterford clash.

Inevitably, it has sent Munster supremacists into an excited orbit as they hail the excellence of the competition by comparison with Leinster. True, it's very exciting, but how high is the actual standard?

shadow Leinster has been in Munster's shadow to some degree over recent weeks but it's still home to the All-Ireland champions and the last two Allianz League winners. And Wexford finished ahead of all Munster counties except Tipperary in the league.

All of which made it very tough for Dublin, who have acquitted themselves well, and Offaly, who were always likely to become the first victims of the relegation rule.

It's even being suggested that dropping down to Tier 2 will do them good, giving them a chance to rebuild at a lower level.

That's not the sort of rebuilding Offaly want or need. They opposed the automatic relegation plan for Leinster only but Special Congress still voted it in, thanks, in the main, to the support of many weaker hurling counties who took their cue from the top table.

Increasing to six the number of counties competing in Leinster is the solution but it's unlikely to happen next year, which will leave Offaly in the Joe McDonagh Cup.

That's not good for them or for hurling.

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