Sunday 21 October 2018

'Unfair' round-robin hurling system could be locked in permanently

Michael Reynolds, acting CEO, Leinster Council. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Reynolds, acting CEO, Leinster Council. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Complaints from some counties that they have been disadvantaged by the tight sequencing of games in the new-look Leinster and Munster hurling championships cannot be addressed in future years without adding considerably to the duration of the campaigns.

And with GAA policy now firmly locked into a mid-May/late August All-Ireland season, there is little prospect of more than one additional week being given to the provinces.

Wexford, Offaly, Tipperary and Waterford faced four games over successive weekends in this year's round-robin format in Leinster and Munster, while the other six counties each had a week's break at some stage.

Wexford were the only one to finish in the top three, with the others failing to win any game (Waterford have one left).

Vulnerable

Davy Fitzgerald blamed Wexford's one-point loss to Kilkenny last Saturday on the busy programme, insisting that it left his team vulnerable in the second half when they surrendered a nine-point lead and lost by one. The defeat cost them a place in the Leinster final.

"I said to the boys on the sideline in the second half, 'the only thing that is going to catch us here is whether we have the energy to keep going'. If we had a week's break, we would have finished a lot stronger," he said.

Offaly manager Kevin Martin was equally scathing of the scheduling after the final-round, 17-point loss to Dublin last Sunday week in what was their fourth game in 22 days.

"These guys are amateurs, not professionals. It (schedule) is not fair on them."

Tipperary won none of their four Munster games - all played in the space of 21 days - while Waterford, who have taken only one point from their first three outings, complete their hectic programme against Cork on Sunday.

Calls for both provincial championships to be extended by at least a week have gathered rapid momentum, but that would not solve the problem, according to Leinster Council CEO Michael Reynolds.

"There's a lot more to it than that. Even if they were played over six rather than five weekends, some teams would still have an advantage when their weekends off are fitted in. If it's played over six weekends, all the teams have to get a weekend off together.

"That means that two counties would have one game in the first three weekends, followed by three in a row.

"They would see that as very unfair by comparison with another county who, for example, would have two games, then a break, followed by a game, a break and then the final game," said Reynolds.

His example of how a six-weekend programme, with one free for all five counties, would have worked in Leinster this year shows that Wexford and Galway would have had the most pressurised schedules.

Kilkenny and Dublin would have had the most favourable sequences.

"The difficulty with five teams is that whatever way you line up the fixtures, some teams will have more games over successive weekends than others. It's much more straightforward with six teams, where they are all playing at the same time and off at the same time," he said.

Since Leinster is structured on a two-year cycle, this season's sequence will also apply in 2019, with Carlow or Westmeath replacing Offaly, who have been relegated to Joe McDonagh Cup level.

That means that Wexford, plus Carlow or Westmeath, will face four games in five weekends. And if it's extended to six weekends, Wexford and Galway will be the only counties with three games in 14 days.

Going beyond six weekends is most unlikely as that would have a knock-on effect on other championships.

Despite completing their round-robin last weekend, Leinster won't play the final (Galway v Kilkenny) until July 1, the same day as the Munster final.

That will inevitably lead to criticism that playing the two showpiece provincial games on the same day is a serious error from a promotional viewpoint.

Reynolds accepts that it would be better if the two finals were on different days, but points out that playing the Leinster hurling final on June 24 and putting the football final back to July 1 would have caused another problem.

"That would leave the beaten Leinster football finalists (Dublin or Laois) facing a six-day turnaround, which nobody wants. It has always been a bone of contention over the years and is not something we want to see happening again," he said.

So why not play the Leinster hurling final on Saturday, June 23, with the football final on the following day?

"As it happens, the Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cup finals are on in Croke Park that Saturday this year, but even if they weren't, would Leinster people want to have their hurling and football finals on the same weekend?

"Personally, I think it would work very well but that's just my opinion. We - and I mean everyone in the GAA - need to be more and more flexible if we are to fit so much into a tight timescale in order to leave more time for club action.

"It's happening, but we'll have to go further. Who would have thought some years ago that we would have three provincial football finals (Munster, Leinster and Ulster) on the same weekend as we're having this year?" said Reynolds.

He believes that breaking with the tradition of playing the All-Ireland hurling final before the football final should also be reviewed.

"We have a feast of hurling up to the first Sunday in July but it tapers off fairly quickly then. Football has far more games after that.

"Maybe we should look at pushing some of the hurling back a bit to make sure it's not overshadowed from a promotional viewpoint.

"Playing the football final first might be worth trying. That would leave the hurling final as the last big event of the inter-county season, which would help its promotion.

"Just because we've always played the hurling first is no reason why it shouldn't be changed. We can't have any sacred cows if we're to do right by both codes, the inter-county game and the clubs," he said.

Irish Independent

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