The restructuring of GAA championships has been a hot topic lately. One such discussion is the motion to overhaul the hurling championship to a round robin structure. Having seen Sunday’s thriller between Cork and Tipperary, could a round robin championship really provide the same excitement?
In all honesty both 2015 and 2016 lacked exciting games until the semi-final stages. Prior to a pair of classics from Tipperary and Galway both years, along with Kilkenny’s titanic struggle to defeat Waterford were the only stand out games from two years of action.
This led to the belief that a restructure is needed. Stranding in the way of any restructure has been the Munster Championship. This particular competition has been sacred to its followers and is filled with tradition.
The problem however is that it failed to produce even one high-quality game in two years. Sweeper systems had taken over, Cork and Limerick had regressed drastically in just two years, and Tipp had begun to dominate.
Was this a problem with the structure? Possibly. Equally as likely a cause however was a drop in standards from the teams. With Tipperary this far ahead, would a change in structure make their games more exciting? Most likely not.
The Leinster Championship has always faced a slight imbalance. For years on end, Kilkenny held a vice-like grip on the trophy. Wexford did provide the odd bit of competition. Galway’s inclusion and Dublin’s improvement did improve this championship.
The problem in Leinster lies with the amount of teams simply not on the same level as the top teams. Sadly, the Offaly’s and Westmeath’s of this world are highly unlikely to spring a surprise on the top teams. This results in many one-sided affairs.
This year would appear to be the most open Leinster Championship in decades however. For the first time since the turn of the millennium, Kilkenny will not enter the championship as favourites, Galway hold this tag.
The popular opinion at the moment is that the championship will reform. Both provincial championships will include five teams, who will play in a round-robin style championship. Each team will play two home games and two away games. This is expected to spark a new lease of life to the championship.
The question is, would this restructure really create more excitement? Had yesterday’s game been the first round of four, would Cork have felt the same thrill when James Owens blew the final whistle? I’d doubt it.
In a group system, All-Ireland champions Tipperary would most likely still advance through the group of five. Under the current system however, Tipperary’s year has now been catapulted into the unknown. The Munster championship meanwhile, has been blown wide open.
What if Wexford can repeat the act and topple Kilkenny? How exciting would the qualifiers become in this situation? Also, you saw what yesterday’s victory meant to Cork, imagine what a victory like this would mean to the people of Wexford.
In a group system, victory over Kilkenny for Wexford could still see them suffer defeat to both Dublin and Galway and be eliminated from the championship.
This restructuring would simply give those counties dominating already even more difficult to eliminate from the hurling championship.
The hurling championship is not perfect, very few would disagree with this. Is a group system the right move? Who knows? It is not unreasonable however to presume that a large degree of excitement would be lost with the removal of a knockout element.
The introduction of a group system will not influence Derek McGrath or Davy Fitzgerald’s decision to use sweepers. The game will be played in the same manner no matter what style of championship we have. The standard of the game should not influence the structure.
Only the rest of the summer can hold a heavy influence on the future of the championship. If, and it’s a big if, the rest of the championship can produce the same magic we’ve seen so far, we may become more reluctant to make such dramatic changes.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena