Wednesday 24 January 2018

Martin Breheny: NHL stands for No Home for Logic

Fifth-best team won't make next year's hurling league quarter-finals, yet 10th-best will as dithering Central Council deepen the discord

A bumper crowd in Nowlan Park watch the Kilkenny and Tipperary teams parade before this year’s Allianz NHL final BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE
A bumper crowd in Nowlan Park watch the Kilkenny and Tipperary teams parade before this year’s Allianz NHL final BRENDAN MORAN/SPORTSFILE
Noel Skehan

Marrtin Breheny

Just when it looked as if the GAA's Central Council couldn't possibly dig any further into the deep hole they had excavated for themselves over the format for the Allianz hurling leagues, they ordered new spades and went to work again.

By the time they were finished last Saturday, they had tunnelled through the very core of consistency and common sense. The end result was the installation of a format which Central Council (CC) themselves had acknowledged was flawed when they agreed to revisit it at their previous meeting.

And, as if to prove that it had a monopoly on bizarre-think, CC voted to retain the new system for three seasons. That's despite clearly having doubts about it a month earlier.

To recap: CC voted last December to adjust the existing format to include four quarter-finals, comprising the top four in Divisions 1A and 1B. By mid-summer, word emerged that, mysteriously, a new plan was gaining traction whereby Cork and Limerick, who were due to be in 1B next year, would be hoisted into 1A.

Wexford and Offaly led the furious opposition, arguing that the proposal would create an elite eight and cut the rest adrift. The threat of legal action was mentioned to prevent it happening. Then, another proposal emerged from Michael Burns, a member of the National Fixtures Group.

STANDARDS

He proposed amalgamating 1A and 1B so that each would feature six counties of different standards, as opposed to the existing structure, which is based on the previous year's finishing places.

He also proposed an add-on where teams of equal standard in 1A and 1B would play two extra games against each other once the group programme was completed.

Disappointed at being outside the top 12, Carlow and Westmeath sought to have Division 1 increased to 14 counties. All of which left CC with a range of options last Saturday. Having previously considered rescinding last December's decision, they now found themselves in a bind.

With two other proposals on the table it became quite messy, so they decided to revert to last December's decision.

The end result is a system laden with inconsistencies. Chief among them is the fact that a team which finishes fifth in 1A (fifth overall in the rankings) doesn't qualify for the quarter-finals, yet the county that finishes fourth in 1B (10th overall) does.

Then, there's the issue of competitiveness. With four of six counties to reach the quarter-finals in both groups, a few early wins will be enough for qualification – thereby creating the possibility of some meaningless games, especially in the final round.

Also, there's a chance that a county could reach the quarter-finals by winning just one of five games. Still that's what Central Council opted for. And, despite their clear reservations, they want it retained for three years.

Quite where the sudden surge of confidence came from for a system which they failed to back a month earlier is difficult to fathom. Perhaps, CC grew weary of the controversies that arose over the past few months and opted to show some faith in what they had agreed on last December.

Overall, it has been a sorry saga which leaves unanswered questions. Where did the original proposal to fast-track Cork and Limerick into 1A come from? Why did Croke Park give it any credence, since CC had already made a decision on the league format last December?

Why did the GAA's top brass show such enthusiasm for Michael Burns' subsequent proposal? Is it not the responsibility of committees, rather than individuals, to come up with proposals?

If CC were prepared to consider alternative proposals after making a decision last December, what credibility have they? And, having wavered at their October meeting, how can they expect the hurling public to accept that it's a good idea to keep the latest structure in place until the end of 2016?

If the final outcome of the dithering had produced a progressive league format, nobody would have minded, but it has instead delivered an uneven, inconsistent structure, whose weaknesses will become apparent next year.

CC insists that it will remain in place for three years. Don't believe it. They have changed their minds before and will do so again. What odds on another change for 2015?

Call off the dogs – here's my best dual stars of last 50 years

My inbox overheated last Saturday with complaints from readers over a dual team I selected in conjunction with a feature on Aidan Walsh's decision to combine hurling and football next year.

The main source of angst concerned the absence of Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Ray Cummins, two of the best dual players.

Quite right too, but the team wasn't meant to be the best of all time.

Instead, I wanted to include as many counties as possible (it came to 13) – hence the exclusion of JBM and Cummins in order to include Paddy Quirke (Carlow) and Greg Blaney (Down).

Unfortunately, an explanatory line to that effect was omitted.

As for the best team, how about this from the last 50 years?

Brendan Cummins (Tipperary);

Brian Corcoran (Cork)

Denis Walsh (Cork)

Brian Murphy (Cork);

Sean Og O hAilpin (Cork)

Denis Coughlan (Cork)

Liam Currams (Offaly);

Des Foley (Dublin)

Teddy McCarthy (Cork);

Conal Keaney (Dublin)

George O'Connor (Wexford)

Jimmy Barry-Murphy (Cork); 'Babs' Keating (Tipperary)

Ray Cummins (Cork)

Pat Dunney (Kildare)

Policing of frees in hurling a fine balancing act

"I can't understand why the striker is allowed to run in several yards. Surely a 21-yard free or penalty should be taken from the line, not from several yards closer to goal?

"It can be dangerous allowing a player to run in towards the 14-yard line before striking the ball, but nothing is being done about it."

An interesting remark in light of the GAA's plan – prompted by Anthony Nash's ground-making expertise – to force free-takers outside the 20-metre line when they strike the ball.

However, the comment wasn't made recently, but rather in an interview I did with Kilkenny goalkeeping great Noel Skehan in June 2004.

Free-takers have been getting away with ground theft for years, yet nothing was done until Nash literally took it a step further.

Now, the big question is whether the balance will tilt too much towards the offending team, if the striker has to be outside the 20-metre line when he makes contact with the ball.

In that scenario, perhaps it's time to restrict the defending team to two players on the line.

Irish Independent

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