IT WAS no surprise to hear that the National Hurling League is to get another revamp. Offaly’s relegation, coupled with Clare continuing in a lower division, has been the catalyst for the latest review of the GAA’s second major competition.
I always favoured the traditional eight-team/four-group structure. Let’s be honest, the hype around restructuring the National League any year centres on the plight of teams towards the bottom of Division 1 and the top of Division 2.
The well-being of teams in the lower two divisions get scant coverage and it cannot be easy performing in front of a sparse attendance.
Any League restructuring does, however, impact the lower divisions as we discovered last week when the Wicklow team manager, Casey O’Brien, bemoaned the fact that his county is not likely to be playing in a higher division which would normally be their right having won the Division 3 title.
The National Hurling League is an important competition. Just ask anyone connected with Dublin hurling! Winning a national title does wonders for any side, but most especially for counties that only occasionally get their hands on silverware at
From what we hear, the restructuring of the League for 2012 will involve a Division 1A and Division 1B, both with six teams. However, unlike some years ago when a similar structure was in operation, Division 1A will have the top six counties and Division 1B the next six.
Previously the top 12 counties were allotted to the two divisions randomly. If the GAA proceed with that new structure it will make for two highly competitive divisions.
There will, of course, be fewer games in the League proper, five rounds now instead of the current seven.
I have not seen details on how the concluding stages will be decided, but I imagine the return of the semi-finals is a certainty. I would also like to see quarter-finals introduced where the top two teams in Division 1B play-off against the third and fourth placed teams in Division 1.
The winners of those two games could then play the top two teams in Division 1A at the semi-final stage. That format would require eight weekends to complete the League.
Hurling needs that level of exposure in the spring. I hope the GAA Central Council bear this in mind when making its decision.
The National Hurling League is important for participating counties for financial reasons also. The bulk of the revenue generated by the competition is divided among all the counties, with the teams operating in Division 1A naturally the bigger earners.
Dublin’s League final success some months ago has given a huge fillip to hurling in the capital and it shows that their efforts at under-age level are finally bringing its reward.
Most counties take the League seriously as they realise that one just cannot switch form on and off. If a county performs poorly in the League, then, more often than not, they carry that form into the championship.
A good League does not, of course, guarantee championship success, but it certainly puts a team in the right frame of mind for the bigger tests that lie ahead.
Irrespective of what League format is adopted in 2012, the debate about relegation will continue to make the headlines. Right now I don’t know if those looking at the new League structures are planning for one or two teams to be relegated from Division 1A to Division 1B.
The restructuring will inevitably generate debate, but it may not be until the conclusion of the 2012 league that the “elephant in the room” will emerge. That is and will remain......relegation.
No one wants it, yet it is a necessary part of any League structure.