Saturday 21 April 2018

Martin Breheny: Why no fresh ideas for hurling?

Focus firmly on football but small ball game would also benefit from reform

Clare’s Davy Fitzgerald (right) trying to prevent Eoin McCormack scoring a goal for Kilkenny in the 2006 All-Ireland SHC semi-final – which was the last time the counties clashed in the championship Picture: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Clare’s Davy Fitzgerald (right) trying to prevent Eoin McCormack scoring a goal for Kilkenny in the 2006 All-Ireland SHC semi-final – which was the last time the counties clashed in the championship Picture: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It starts earlier, finishes later and, in between, it enjoys a higher profile. And that's just during the league and championship months.

Even in the closed season, football often overshadows hurling in the various debates and discussions that help pass the winter period.

That was certainly the case in recent months where the proposal to introduce a 'round robin' format as a replacement for the All-Ireland football quarter-finals has been analysed and dissected at length.

The decision on whether to accept the Central Council-backed motion will be one of the main points of interest from Congress at the end of this month. Carlow and Laois are also proposing change to the football championship format.


Discussion on the hurling championship will centre mainly on Galway's call for their teams in all grades to compete in a provincial championship.

That has its roots in their dispute with Leinster over the rejection of the request for their underage teams to move east with the seniors for championship action and the continued refusal to play any games in Galway.

Essentially, Galway want to make their situation a national issue so that Leinster agree to integrate them fully into their championships or else they look towards Munster.

Of course, it's unlikely that Munster would want to accommodate them. Besides, having Galway in Munster, rather than Leinster, would make the championships even more lopsided.

The chances are that some form of diplomacy will apply in order to divert Galway's case elsewhere for further examination and, hopefully, resolution.

Meanwhile, the football proposals will be a big-ticket item, with the calls for the 'round robin' method of deciding the semi-finalists driven by Central Council. There are no similar plans for hurling where the need for more exposure is greater.

As things stand, it takes 60 games (without replays) to complete the football championships, compared to 27 in hurling (including six in the Leinster 'round robin'). With respects to the latter, it's essentially a qualifier competition so, in effect, the real hurling championship features 21 games, involving 13 counties, whereas 33 teams compete for the Sam Maguire Cup.

Yet, despite hurling being a much smaller constituency, there is no proposal to increase the number of games, even if the market is crying out for them.

Given how relatively few counties there are at the top end of the hurling market, head-to-heads between some of them are remarkably rare.

For instance, Clare have not played Kilkenny in the championship since the 2006 semi-final. That's a massive loss from a promotional viewpoint, as indeed are many of the other rivalries that have been in short supply too.

Try these examples from the last 10 seasons. Apart from not playing Clare at all, Kilkenny have only encountered Cork, Limerick and Wexford three times each. In the same period, Kilkenny have played Galway 11 times, Tipperary eight and Waterford seven.

Galway have played Tipperary only four times, Waterford twice and Wexford once while their last encounter with Limerick was in 2005, 24 years after their previous meeting. How bizarre is that.

And so it goes. Tipperary have played Dublin three times and Wexford twice over 10 years; Dublin have played Clare and Waterford twice each; Limerick and Wexford have met three times.

Surely, the ambition should be to get the top 10 counties playing each other as often as possible in the All-Ireland series?

Given that it's unlikely that the Munster and Leinster championships will be dismantled any time soon, a 'round robin' system for the last eight, with four to qualify for the semi-finals, has an obvious appeal.

If it applied last year the following eight would have featured: Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford, Galway, Clare, Wexford, Cork, Limerick.

Group A: Kilkenny, Waterford, Clare, Limerick.

Group B: Tipperary, Galway, Wexford, Cork.

With home and away fixtures, it would bring glamour action to eight venues for games of real significance. In fact, a more solid case can be made for a 'round robin' in hurling than football, which already has a much busier championship programme.

It's surprising that small-ball lovers aren't more vocal on the subject.

Irish Independent

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