Saturday 15 December 2018

Timing changes in leagues and championships are bad for hurling

Allianz CEO Sean McGrath and Head of Marketing and Communications Damien O’Neill with INM Head of Sports Content David Courtney, Derek McGrath and Colm Callanan at the launch of independent.ie’s ‘The Throw-In’ Podcast, which is being sponsored by Allianz. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Allianz CEO Sean McGrath and Head of Marketing and Communications Damien O’Neill with INM Head of Sports Content David Courtney, Derek McGrath and Colm Callanan at the launch of independent.ie’s ‘The Throw-In’ Podcast, which is being sponsored by Allianz. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

Whatever happened to the crusade against player burnout? And why has common sense been shown the door and told to not even try to get back in for at least three years?

The GAA is a fantastic organisation, complete with many of the brightest people in the country, yet when it comes to competition planning, it's as if an outside group, intent on sabotage, seize control.

I'll leave the football people to fight their own corner and stick with hurling where the Allianz League is starting in January, a month when it's often an achievement to persuade cold hands to even hold the hurley.

The standard of pitches has improved but obviously they are still at their worst at this of year. Never mind, it has been decided that the league must launch in January and be completed by March 24 when 20 years ago they weren't starting until the second Sunday in March.

We're playing the final on a Saturday evening this year, the day before the last round of football league games. Which will get most coverage in Monday's newspapers?

Football, of course, since it will be fresher but, for some logic-free reason, the hurling league final gets a Saturday evening slot. Jamming the hurling league into eight weeks, and completing it even before the clocks switch to summer time, is an insult to the competition and the game.

And for what? So that April is left free of inter-county games. It sounds great for clubs but let's see how much important club action takes place. I bet it will be a lot less than those who drove it through think.

The unnecessary squeezing continues later on, with the All-Ireland final brought back to the second last Sunday in August. The semi-finals will played on the same weekend at the end of July.

Throw in the decision to play the Leinster and hurling finals on the same day and it's clear that promotion of the game got zero consideration in the revamped schedule.

That's not just short-sightedness, it's blindness to the stark reality that if you don't maximise promotion opportunities, others will exploit it.

Taking the All-Ireland finals back to August is madness from a promotional viewpoint: so too is starting the league in January, something that hasn't happened before,

And then there's player burnout, which is supposed to be a major consideration in fixture planning.

Really? I'm involved with Limerick IT again this year - we lost by a point to a very good DCU team on Monday so the pressure is on to beat Garda next week - so I have a good understanding of the pressures facing inter-county players in college.

It beyond unreasonable. Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cup games are an integral part of college life for the best players but of course their counties want them too, especially in such a condensed league.

The vast majority of managers - both county and college - do the best they can not to over-stretch players but it's not easy because of the double scheduling.

Why not play third-level competitions in the first term? It's not ideal but it's better than what we have now when players are being pulled between county and college in conditions that are totally unsuitable for any grade.

I don't like being negative on the opening weekend of the competitive season but I just cannot see how hurling is best served by all the timing changes. Still, we have lift-off this evening and then it's flat out for two months. Only time will tell whether the change to a 'round robin' format in the Leinster and Munster Championships will have a negative impact on the league, which has been an excellent competition for quite some time.

The busy championship programme, where teams will play four games over successive weekends for some counties, makes it necessary to have a big squad, who can be relied on to deliver at the highest level.

That will probably lead to quite a bit of experimentation in the league, with managers trying to make sure that they have at least 20 players who are interchangeable without weakening the team.

Okay, so they always wanted that but it's more important now because of the busier provincial campaigns.

Something to keep an eye out for in the first two rounds of the league is how counties that didn't compete in official pre-season competitions fare. Galway, Tipperary and Waterford weren't involved so will they be a little off the pace for a while? Or does it matter a whit whether teams play the pre-season competitions, which are little more glorified challenge games anyway.

It shouldn't matter a whole lot to Galway, who are in 1B but Tipp and Waterford are in the more competitive 1A, starting against Clare and Wexford respectively, who were busy in the pre-season competitions.

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