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League format flawed and frustrating

AS Margaret Thatcher used to say to her terrified ministers: "Bring me solutions, not problems."

History doesn't show where Maggie stood on the question of how to structure the National Hurling League but I suspect that if she was dealing with the current set-up, she would handbag it into obscurity, yelling "OUT, OUT, OUT".

In the name of common sense, how have we arrived at a situation where the Division 3A final between Monaghan and Fingal had to be called off? And in the name of all that's logical, why do counties who top groups have to put promotion on the line again against the runners-up? And why do counties who finish second from bottom have to face a relegation play-off?

The lads in Croke Park seem very pleased with the latest format. But then, given all the changes to the system over the last 15 years, I suppose they have to be seen to support the latest one, however flawed it might be. But does GAA director general Paraic Duffy really believe that guaranteeing counties just five games each is good for hurling?

If five games is enough for hurlers, why not for footballers too? The football lads get a minimum of seven (eight if they're in Division 4) games, which is fine. Not so the hurlers, who were cut back this year.

Now that's bad enough, but it's by no means the most unfair aspect of the league. The promotion-relegation play-off system punishes teams with a higher number of points in favour of those who didn't do as well.

Clare finished on full points after winning all five games in Division 1B, whereas Limerick dropped three points. Common sense dictates that a team that finishes three points ahead of their rivals deserve to be promoted but no, Clare had to play Limerick in a winner-take-all. Not only that, but Clare had to go to the Gaelic Grounds so, in effect, Limerick were rewarded more than Clare for coming second.

As it happened, Clare won anyway but they shouldn't have had to beat Limerick a second time to be promoted, just as Limerick should not have had to play Clare a second time to be promoted last year.

Galway finished three points ahead of Dublin in Division 1A but could find themselves relegated after tomorrow's play-off.

Wexford finished four points ahead of Laois -- who lost all of their five games -- in Division 1B but have to play them again in a play-off and so on down through the divisions, except for some reason in 2A, where there's no relegation and 3A, where there's no promotion.

There are no relegation play-offs in any division in football but they have been thrown into the middle of a very bad mix in hurling. What was wrong with two groups of eight in Divisions 1 and 2 in hurling? We keep hearing about how uncompetitive some games were in Division 2 in recent years, but the solution wasn't to contract the groups and add relegation play-offs, which are grossly unfair.

As for the cancelled Monaghan v Fingal final, could you see it happening in football? Now there may be rights and wrongs on both sides in Monaghan but, in the end, it comes down to this: Monaghan ran a fine campaign, taking nine of a possible 10 points and were looking forward to the final.

Surely, it should have been possible to work out some compromise between club (football) and county (hurling) in Monaghan. Once again, hurling loses out. How often before have we seen that throughout various parts of the country?

It's one for new president Liam O'Neill to get his teeth into.

Irish Independent