Friday 16 November 2018

Martin Breheny: How football is going to leave hurling in the shade

'In fairness to fixture-makers, they face a difficult balancing act in an organisation catering for so many grades and competitions across two sports.' Photo: Sportsfile
'In fairness to fixture-makers, they face a difficult balancing act in an organisation catering for so many grades and competitions across two sports.' Photo: Sportsfile

Martin Breheny

We have had the feast, now for the famine. Perhaps 'famine' is a slight exaggeration, more a case of strict rationing but, either way, the difference will be stark.

Having gorged at tables overloaded with hurling goodies for six weekends, strict diet time has arrived. Okay, so it had to come but the severity of the regime would horrify a nutritionist.

There are nine games left in the hurling championships, two of which feature top teams (Limerick, Wexford) against Division 2 opposition (Carlow, Westmeath).

Meanwhile, there are 34 games remaining in the football championship. That's almost a four-to-one ratio in favour of football. Even then, hurling really has only seven major attractions.

The two preliminary quarter-finals will be big occasions for Carlow and Westmeath, both of whom deserve a shot at higher-ranked opposition, but in terms of public interest they won't come close to matching the provincial round robin series.

That leaves the Leinster (Galway v Kilkenny) and Munster (Clare v Cork) finals, the All-Ireland quarter-finals, semi-finals and final as the main menu between June 17 and August 19, the new date for the final.

Awareness

Even allowing for the numerical imbalance, it appears to offer a reasonable number of opportunities to maintain an awareness of hurling and prevent it being swamped by football coverage but the reality is different.

The Leinster and Munster hurling finals will be played on the same day (Sunday week); so too with the All-Ireland quarter-finals (July 15) and, in a significant change, both semi-finals are on the same weekend (Saturday/Sunday, July 28/29).

Now all that may help streamline the fixtures schedules but what about marketing and promotion?

Hurling's profile has been greatly enhanced by the undoubted success of the round robin series but that's about to be swamped by football. All the more so because of the introduction of football's new 'Super 8' quarter-final system which will feature 12 games between July 14 and August 5.

In the circumstances, you would expect the fixture planners to squeeze as much as possible from the hurling programme, instead of which they are being slotted into double-events, either on the same day or same weekend.

The decision by Leinster and Munster to play their hurling finals on the one afternoon may make sense from their particular viewpoints but neat local scheduling isn't everything.

Galway v Kilkenny and Clare v Cork are very attractive national fixtures, but playing them on the one day halves the promotional value.

The same applies to having the All-Ireland semi-finals on the same weekend. They will get huge media coverage in a short, concentrated burst, whereas it would extend for much longer if the games were on successive weekends, as was the case up to now.

Leinster finished their round robin on June 9, leaving a 22-day gap before the final, which will be played in Croke Park at 4pm on Sunday week, 30 minutes after the Munster final finishes in Thurles.

Leinster CEO Michael Reynolds explained in this newspaper last week that if their hurling final were brought forward to next Sunday, it would require putting the football final back to July 1. That, in turn, would leave the beaten football finalists facing a Round 4 qualifier six days later, which has caused angst in all four provinces over the years.

So let's look at Munster then. They didn't complete their hurling 'round robin' until last Sunday, having started a week later than Leinster.

If they had launched and finished at the same time as Leinster, they could have played the final next Sunday. Perhaps, they didn't want their two big finals on the same weekend, in which case the football final could be played last Saturday.

Munster staged their football semi-finals on May 26 (much to Tipperary's fury as they had two games in a week) and June 2 so there was no obvious reason why the final could not have been played last weekend, followed by the hurling final next Sunday, subject of course to completing their round robin a week earlier.

As for the All-Ireland hurling semi-finals, the earlier date prompted the decision to play both on the same weekend. Was it really necessary to bring the final forward by two weeks? If it were played on August 26, the semi-finals could be staggered between the last weekend in July and the first weekend in August, thereby doubling the promotional opportunities.

We're being promised that the earlier All-Ireland finals will be a big help to the embattled club scene. Pardon my scepticism, but I will believe that when I see it. After all, we were also told that leaving April free of inter-county activity would boost club activity but there's little evidence of that being the case in a great many counties.

In fairness to fixture-makers, they face a difficult balancing act in an organisation catering for so many grades and competitions across two sports.

Maybe it's not surprising then the promotional side gets sacrificed. The fallout from that may not be immediately obvious but it's there all the same. There were three games last weekend (none on Saturday), compared with 14 next weekend, three of which are provincial football finals.

Football is set to dominate from now on, with hurling only allowed out in pairs on a small number of weekends. There has to be a better way. Separating the Munster and Leinster finals and the All-Ireland semi-finals would be a start.

Irish Independent

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