Hurling league needs overhaul
The failure of the GAA to establish a credible National Hurling League and the resulting consequences for hurling generally have been the subject of much debate recently. The injustice done to Limerick easily springs to mind. However, there is a further consequence that in my humble opinion is both inexplicable and indefensible.
Kilkenny played a mere two home games at Nowlan Park in this year's National League. Kilkenny, who will not have any home championship games, will therefore not play another competitive game at Nowlan Park until the commencement of next year's National League, ie spring 2014. What other sporting organisation in the world would organise its affairs where the leading exponents of its code are limited to a mere two home games for the year?
That Manchester United, Barcelona or the All Blacks would allow their governing bodies to limit their home appearances at Old Trafford, Camp Nou or Eden Park respectively to a mere two home games annually is inconceivable.
It is clear that the Blazers at Croke Park operate on a different planet. It is also clear that now is the time for the counties who regard hurling and its existence as important in the general scheme of things to once and for all band together to insist that a viable, credible, enlarged National League be established where all the teams are afforded a sufficient number of games to display their talents and to satisfy their supporters' needs. The promotional and financial benefits of such a league would be incalculable. Hurling would be the ultimate winner.
Failure to act now will result in ground lost that may not be recoverable.
Handicap system just might work
In the NHL, I believe the five-game schedule makes the league campaign very competitive and exciting – but six teams in the top division is just too few.
I would expand Division 1 to 10 teams (say, the 10 with automatic berths in the provincials of the Liam MacCarthy Cup 2014), who play only six games (an even three home and away).
The 10 teams could be divided into three seeding ranks – High seeds are teams 1, 2 and 3; Middle seeds 4 to 7; and Low seeds 8, 9 and 10; and the ten could then split into 'A' and 'B' streams for the knockout stage only.
To handicap, each team plays a round-robin but avoids three opponents (High seeds avoid Low seeds, and Middle seeds avoid each other) for a schedule of six games.
To offset any inequities in the partial/handicapped round robin schedule, I would expand the knockout by having the Top Six play for the Div One 'A' title – Top Two get two chances – winner to the final, loser to the one semi-final; while third to sixth get one chance – winners of 3v6 and 4v5 contest the one quarter-final.
Bottom 4 (7th to 10th) merge with Top Four (11th to 14th) from Div Two to form eight teams that play for the Div One 'B' title (played under Christy Ring Cup format).
Div One 'B' first round – 7th vs 12th and 8th vs 11th (two chances, losers to QFs); and 14th vs 9th and 13th vs 10th (single chance, winners to QFs).
Second Round (2 QFs, 4 teams); Third Round (2 SFs, 4 teams that also "win their way up" promoted or retained in Div One the following year); Fourth Round is the Final.
Divs Two, Three and Four each with eight teams, also play six games, by avoiding one opponent. Knockouts of Bottom 4/Top 4 for Divs Two/Three (2A title) and Three/Four (3A title) could also operate under the Christy Ring Cup Format.
For football (NFL), I recommend divisions of 10, 8 and 15 (the 15 regionalised, 7 North, 8 South), with a six-game schedule.
What do you think of handicapping the league schedules?
Circle turns for McGuinness
Maybe now that Donegal have been relegated Jim McGuinness will come down from his high horse and won't suspend a player from the panel for a small misdemeanour or expel journalists from a press conference. What goes around comes around.
Confused by an absentee
Although I am an admirer of Eamonn Sweeney and his weekly column, I must admit that I was left somewhat confused by his article headlined 'Drug cheats must be banned for life' [March 31]. I was quite enjoying the article until I reached the end. I was left scratching my head and read the list at the end; there was no mention of Cian O'Connor, and how he was stripped of a gold medal!