This year’s National Hurling League semi-finalists are now known, but the talk this past week has continued to focus on the structures of the competition,writes Nickey Brennan.
It is a debate that will not be silenced any time soon as many team managers continue to voice strong opposition to the current Division 1A and Division 1B structures.
The Limerick manager John Allen was particularly stringent in his criticism and his worst fears were realised on Saturday evening in Semple Stadium when his team was defeated by Dublin in the Division 1B final.
The reward for Dublin is a semi-final place against Tipperary on Sunday, April 21, the same day as Kilkenny play Galway in the other semi-final.
Perhaps, more importantly for Dublin, the victory sees the Metropolitans return to Division 1A in 2014. They now go in against Tipperary with renewed confidence, and even if the Premier County has excelled recently, Dublin will relish the challenge.
We will review the League semi-finals at another time, but it is worth noting that should Kilkenny and Tipperary emerge victorious, the League final between those great rivals will be played in Nowlan Park.
John Allen is a shrewd manager and he knows only too well that his young side needs regular hurling against the top counties if further progress is to be made.
His team was also defeated in last year’s Division 1B final by Clare, so his frustration at losing out on promotion for the second year in a row is understandable.
Allen now has the difficult task of preparing his side for their opening round Muster championship tie against Tipperary on June 9 without any meaningful competition beforehand.
Morale will be low after the loss to Dublin, but Allen, with his vast experience with his native Cork, will have his side well tuned for the visit of Tipperary to the Gaelic Grounds.
Duffy said counties had say
Incidentally, Limerick play Kilkenny as part of their preparation for that opening Munster championship tie. The game is being promoted by the Staker Wallace club and will be played on May 19.
While the furore regarding the National Hurling League was continuing last week, a comment from the GAA Director General is worth noting.
Paraic Duffy noted the level of dissatisfaction being expressed at the current National League structures, but he pointed out that those structures were approved by the counties themselves.
He is, of course, absolutely correct. But the reality is that it is probably impossible to come up with a structure that suits every county.
The current structures offer hurling followers too few top games. It could be argued that Division 1A this year gave us a number of exciting and close games, but hurling needs many more top games to enhance its profile.
The loser of the Cork versus Clare Division 1A relegation final will join Limerick in Division 1B next year. Sadly for Offaly and Wexford, they must remain in that division for another year, and with a big player to drop back, they will find it hard to get out of there next season.
Either Antrim or Carlow will bid farewell to Division 1B as they meet in the upcoming relegation final. Dropping to Division 2A will be a backward step for the losers.
Eight team Division I
My personal preference has always been for an eight team Division 1, and a similar structure to Division 2.
The argument against such a structure is that the same teams will regularly yo-yo between the two divisions, creating little incentive for those considered second tier counties.
A 12 team Division 1, split into two groups, has also been mooted. While that structure would afford second-tier counties an opportunity to play at the highest level, the fear is that some games might be one-sided.
Such a league structure could result in, for example, Kilkenny not playing neighbours Tipperary in a given year. If the sides were in different league groups, they could only meet in the knock-out stages.
There is no guarantee either that the counties would meet in the championship given the current structures.
I do not envy those who strive to come up with acceptable structures to suit every county. The need to accommodate the requirements of the second tier counties is understandable, but whatever structures emerge must ensure that hurling gets the highest possible profile.
That is not possible with the current structures.