Time to sort out the Hurling League issue

The furore over the format of the 2014 National Hurling League surprised because I assumed the format which operated in 2013 would continue.

The furore over the format of the 2014 National Hurling League surprised because I assumed the format which operated in 2013 would continue.

My assumption was based on the fact that when structuring the 2013 NHL, Central Council decreed that it would operate for 2014 also, after which a full review would ensue.

It came as a big surprise, therefore, when a new format was announced some weeks ago. Almost immediately it drew the wrath of Offaly and Wexford, with the latter even threatening legal action.

The conspiracy theorists in the GAA (of which there are many) immediately implied that Cork and Limerick were the counties behind the proposed new format.

I have no idea how all this furore started. Furthermore, I have no recollection of Cork every raising an issue (at least publically) at having to play in Division1B next year. Unpalatable and all as that is, Cork was prepared to battle its way back to the higher division.

Limerick has long been opposed to anything less than eight teams in the top division, but their views were known long before any thoughts of new league structures in 2014 emerged.

Divisive issue

It was clear from an early stage that the proposal had run aground long before it was discussed by the GAA Management Committee and Central Council. There was little point in proposing a structure that had already become very divisive.

Individuals in Croke Park knew the proposals were inciting division and a Plan B was required. Heading into a Management or Central Council meeting without an alternative plan could not be countenanced, irrespective of the views of delegates.

The new set of proposals which were drafted by Michael Burns from Monaghan are interesting and shows some ‘outside the box’ thinking. I know Michael Burns and he has an impressive track record of handling organisational and fixtures issue in the GAA, particularly within his own native county.

I personally always favoured an eight team Division 1. These proposals go close to meeting that. The Burns proposal is innovative and subject to some clarifications in a number of areas is probably worth trying in 2014.

As the GAA quickly found out with its first set of proposals it is impossible to satisfy everyone. Offaly and Wexford were quickly on the warpath a couple of weeks ago. Now it is the turn of Carlow and Westmeath.

All four counties had - and in the case of Carlow and Westmeath - still have valid reasons for being dissatisfied with the Burns proposals.

Gap in standards

While it is easy to put eight top teams in a Division 1, the problem arises when one tries to pick the next eight for Division 2. The gap between the top and bottom sides would, unfortunately, deliver some lobsided games even if the supposed weaker teams felt the higher level of competition would help them progress.

That argument has validity in some instances and Carlow and Westmeath offer the strongest reasons why omitting them from the top two league tiers will do nothing for the progress of hurling in either county.

No league structures have undergone more change than the National Hurling League and it is not helping the competition or its sponsors Allianz to see the GAA’s second national competition getting such negative commentary.

Doctored too much

What has surprised me most of all as this issue came to the forefront over recent weeks was that no one appears to have asked the Hurling Development Committee for their views on the matter. I have not seen any comments either from the HDC.

The HDC has some of the wisest and smartest hurling men around working on this committee. They would appear to have been left out of the loop on this issue. If that is the case then it disappoints me greatly.

The National Hurling League has been doctored far too much and we are all responsible. Irrespective of whatever proposals eventually get accepted, I hope the GAA includes a no-change clause for the next ten years.