The GAA may be in an embarrassing situation come May 22nd.
The preliminary rounds of the Leinster Hurling Championship remain the most complicated in the All-Ireland series these days. However, things have cleared up in recent years, and most would be in agreement that it is a very efficient system.
Four teams play in a round robin, for two places in the Leinster Championship proper, while one is relegated to the Christy Ring Cup, making way for the tier 2 winner to be promoted for the following year.
This gives competitive matches to the perceived ‘weaker sides’, acting as preparation before meeting the bigger fish.
However, this year the organisers may have shot themselves in the foot.
The qualifier group will be contested by Offaly, Westmeath, Carlow and Kerry. The winner will go on to play Galway in the quarter-final, while the runner-up will play Laois.
Therefore, the winner would have a tougher game than the runner-up in the next round.
This is no slight on Laois, who are making strides on the hurling scene. This writer tipped them as possibly competing in a Leinster Final in the Pundit Arena 2016 predictions last week, but there is no denying that they are considered the more attractive option compared to Galway.
On May 22nd, Offaly take on Westmeath,and Carlow face Kerry. Should either of these games feature teams with 100% records from their first two matches, there will be a clear incentive to lose.
Granted, nobody goes out trying to lose a game, but the winner has a clear disadvantage in the next round. Therefore it is worth making the point that this is an unjust system.
To ensure the integrity of the game in the coming years, something ought to be done.
However, it remains unclear how the GAA ensure that this will not happen again in the future.
When the draw is finalised, take the two teams in question (in this instance Laois and Galway) and rank them on where they came in the previous year’s league (Laois finished fifth in Division 1B in 2015, while Galway placed fourth in 1A). That way, it could be fairly established which is the more attractive game for the winner of the qualifying group.