Tuesday 12 December 2017

Martin Breheny: Spot the difference

Corbett must make do with far fewer league matches than Brogan next year after hurling's latest raw deal

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

SO then, another bad deal for hurling. Last Saturday, the GAA decided to increase the number of senior inter-county football games while reducing the hurling equivalent. Granted, the football addition is minimal (two semi-finals in Division 1 of the Allianz League) but the hurling reduction is considerable, with the top 16 counties having their league schedule cut from a guaranteed minimum of seven to five games from next year.

And since there will be no semi-finals in Division 1 of the NHL, the title will be won off six games, compared with nine in football, a 50pc differential between the two codes.

For illustrative purposes, let's personalise it. Colm Cooper, Bernard Brogan, Michael Murphy and dozens of other leading footballers can look forward to as many as nine league games, while Lar Corbett, Tommy Walsh, Joe Canning and colleagues must make do with a maximum of six (five if they don't reach the final or aren't in a relegation play-off).

In fairness to all players, not to mention the public who like to see the top stars in both codes as often as possible, the official fixtures schedule should not discriminate in favour of either code. Yet it does, because that's what counties voted for last Saturday.

Central Council is comprised mainly of county delegates so it was their choice. What's more, they had three options for the NHL -- one which proposed running it on broadly similar terms as football, a second which involved reducing the number of group games but adding quarter and semi-finals and a third (this was accepted), which went for the lowest possible number of games.

So before anybody blames "that crowd up in Croke Park" for the change, let them check how their county delegate voted. The adjustment was made by the counties so they must take responsibility, not those charged with implementing the Central Council decision.

Already, there are dark mutterings of discontent among some of the leading hurling counties. The change will be especially hard on Limerick and Wexford, both of whom would have been in Division 1 (top eight) under the old system but lost out because of the two-way split of six each under the new format.

It means that neither can win the Division 1 title outright. Wexford were delighted that their late flourish kept them in the top flight this year, while Limerick carefully plotted their way out of Division 2 and into contention to win the Division 1 title next year. That can't happen now since Division 1B counties aren't eligible for the top prize.

If 1A and 1B were to be restored in two groups of six, there was a clear logic in adding quarter and semi-final finals, thereby increasing the number of games for some teams towards the levels enjoyed by the footballers. It would also offer the top two in 1B the chance to win the title outright.

Of course, the big question is why Central Council voted to reduce the number of games in the NHL. Is it another example of a football-dominated organisation asserting big-ball interests, not as matter of general policy but at localised level? Quite probably.

As a rough guide, football is dominant in 20 of the 32 counties, hurling is No 1 in five, with the remaining seven broadly equal across the codes. With the exception of Antrim, the counties north of a line from Dublin to Galway are football-dominated, yet they have an equal say in how hurling is structured.


Cavan won't have a team in next year's NHL yet their Central Council delegate was entitled to vote on the proposals. And with respect to several other counties where hurling represents a tiny percentage of their GAA activities, is it right that they have as much of an input in deciding on the Division 1 NHL format as those who are directly involved?

The GAA has always prided itself on being democratic but that's taking it to unsustainable levels. Reducing games in the NHL means it can start later and take up fewer weekends.

How convenient for football, where Division 1 will take nine weekends to complete, compared with six in hurling. How convenient too that hurling's reduced programme will create more space for the provincial U-21 football championships, which are run off in spring.

Three options were on the Central Council agenda for the NHL and, in my view, the least progressive one was chosen. It will probably only last a year before there's another change.

After all, it's already under attack, which is not a good sign.

Irish Independent

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