Cork’s capitulation on Sunday at the hands of Tipperary had both management and pundits alike scratching their heads. Where did it all go wrong for the Rebels? The Premier are not ten points better than their southern rivals. Proven players at this level flopped for Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s side, with basic errors and inaccurate shooting letting down the team. So did the five week gap following their Munster triumph destroy Cork’s rhythm?
We have seen teams fail to perform following such a break in the past. Limerick fell flat against Clare at the same stage last year, while Waterford and Dublin have also dropped intensity by the time semi-finals have come around.
In fact, it may come as a surprise that over the last 11 seasons, just four Munster Champions have progressed to the All-Ireland final, with just the one eventual victory (Cork in 2005.) The Leinster Champions have fared better in the final four over this period, but this is thanks in no small part to the greatest Kilkenny team of all time, who have not been beaten in a semi-final since 2005.
Teams who build up momentum have thrived in recent seasons. Tipperary, just like in 2010, have licked their wounds, and found their way, via the qualifiers, to the promised land that is the first September Sunday in Croke Park.
Last year, Dublin were extremely lucky to come out of Wexford Park with a draw. Following the replay, they went on to defeat Kilkenny after two games, and routed Galway in the decider. The wheels were gathering pace, but came off following the five week break. There are countless other examples. Momentum is everything.
So why does such a situation arise? Is it now a disadvantage to win a provincial title? Will this eventually discredit a provincial title? In theory, the winner with a five week break has time to recover from a grueling provincial campaign, go back to training, and ready themselves for the challenge ahead. But this is not the case.
The lack of competitive hurling has damaged teams. Something needs to be changed in order to give sides an incentive to take the direct route to the final.
So it may be feasible to reduce the gap. If the qualifiers were completed in fewer weeks, it would be possible to play the quarter-finals a week after the Munster Final. The quicker format would allow possibly only a two or three week gap for the holders of the Bob O’Keeffe and Munster Hurling Cups.
An internal resolution may also be achievable, if county boards were to schedule club championship games during the break. Kilkenny run this, and their success is difficult to argue with. Although not playing together, county players are not completely starved of competitive action. However, it must be organised carefully as to not greatly inconvenience club players’ arrangements.
From 2005 to 2007, the GAA experimented with a format containing four quarter-finals. However, on reflection, it offered no reward to provincial champions, as both teams contesting a provincial final found themselves in the last 8 in the following round, regardless of the final’s result.
There are several solutions, and action must be taken so the provincial champions do not suffer a clear disadvantage.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.