It may only be the start of April but last weekend almost felt like the real beginning of the GAA season. While silverware is yet to be handed out in the League in both hurling and football, promotion and relegation matters were dealt with and high drama commenced all over the country.
Most of the negative press was attributed to the Cork hurlers’ survival in Division 1A of the National Hurling League. Despite losing all of their games, and some by heavy margins, they managed to survive with a play-off victory over Galway, condemning the Tribesmen to Division 1B for next season.
A lot of people are branding the league structure as a joke as a result of Cork’s survival. While the structure may not be perfect, there are far more positives then negatives. So here, we give five reasons for keeping the current National Hurling League structure.
Collectively there may have been more drama in the final round of the football league with various scenarios unfolding all over the country, but yesterday’s hurling was as good as there has been in a long time. The only disappointment was that there wasn’t more live coverage.
Clare vs Tipperary was not a classic but there was a throwback to their intense rivalry and a tight game commenced. Wexford and Waterford played out another close battle. Limerick surprised many with an impressive win over Dublin. And Cork defied all the odds to record a significant win over Galway.
The days are too rare where we get a high number of competitive hurling games with sufficient consequences. The league allows this and it is definitely a pro of the current structure.
The league is very competitive. The split of Division 1A and 1B allows for some very good contests. Teams at the same level play each other a period of time, while hammerings and dead-rubber games are rare.
The promotion and relegation means that teams have something to play for in almost every game. A lot of people are being critical of Cork being allowed to stay up having lost every game in the round-robin series.
It is a legitimate point, but at the end of the day, Galway won the same amount of games as Cork over six games, taking the structure into account. Galway drew two matches against Tipperary and Waterford. They played a weakened Waterford side and conceded late on to Tipperary having been in a winning position.
So it is very easy for Galway to blame the structure. If they had gotten results like they should have, they never would have been in that relegation play-off. They knew the structure from the off-set, and failed to do enough.
Overall the league is very competitive. It may not allow massive scope for experimentation, but it provides high-quality games of a competitive nature for players, management and supporters.
3. Every team has a chance
In 2015, Waterford won the league despite playing in Division 1B. Some people think this was a joke, or how it is technically possible for a team who finishes 4th in Division 1B to actually go on and win the league.
This writer sees it as more of a positive. It allows teams to get as much as they possibly can out of the league. People look at relegation as a crisis. But Waterford showed that Division 1B is not the end of the world. Limerick and Dublin were in the second tier in 2013, but went on to capture provincial honours that summer.
In both divisions, at the end of the series each team either plays a quarter-final or a relegation play-off. This gives everybody one extra competitive game. Then there is scope for the in-form teams to go even further.
Ideally every side wants to be in Division 1A playing against the best teams. But Division 1B has shown up to be a good way of teams building momentum through a season.
Overall it is the fairest system possible.
4. If only the championship were like that
The final point is slightly stolen from Kieran Shannon in The Irish Examiner. Like he does on so many occasions, it put things into very simple perspective a few weeks ago, when he stated that the GAA have the seasons the wrong way around.
This writer can’t help but agree.
Think about it logically; why can’t days like yesterday take place during the summer? Instead, we, and more importantly players and management, are subject to long breaks and only two guaranteed games.
This part of the league has been played off over eight weeks, with each of the 12 teams playing six matches.
Now there are four teams remaining in a semi-final and promotion and relegation has been decided.
It is far more efficient system than the long drawn out summer championships, that realistically don’t suit anybody.
So there is an argument in favour of keeping the current league structure. Nothing will ever be perfect, but this is as efficient as any structure that the GAA has had in a long time. It should continue, and if anything, it should be used in the championship.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.