Nickey Brennan - No winner from compromise solution to League format

The only conclusion one can reach following the decision of the GAA Central Council to adopt yet another revised structure to the 2012 National Hurling League is that few will be happy with the outcome.

The only conclusion one can reach following the decision of the GAA Central Council to adopt yet another revised structure to the 2012 National Hurling League is that few will be happy with the outcome.

The League structure that was eventually passed was not even mentioned in the lead up to the meeting. It ended up being a compromise solution. No winners emerged from the entire process. We can only hope that fewer games in the 2012 League will not take from the competition.

The GAA will continue to struggle to find a permanent solution to its Hurling League structures unless there is acceptance that some counties may, ultimately, not be good enough to stay in the top division and will continually yo-yo between the top two grades.

Almost every year there is a protest from some county who maintains that playing in Division 2 will somehow undermine the game of hurling forever in their county. This is nonsense!

The outcome of that protest almost always ends up as a struggle within the GAA to come up with a formula which will satisfy everyone’s need. Quite simply, that is not impossible.

I have long held the view that the most appropriate structure will always be an eight-team Division 1 with semi-finals and two teams relegated. It gives every team a minimum of seven games and a high profile conclusion to the competition.

A similar structure could apply to Division 2.

Promotion/relegation part of league structure

But too many counties don’t want to accept the fact that promotion and relegation is an integral part of any league structure. Nine weekends is the maximum which can be allowed to run off the League, as otherwise club competitions are compromised.

Two groups of six teams, with quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final is a reasonable compromise and would have met the wishes of every county on this occasion, albeit a little reluctantly in a few instances.

At the heart of the current dilemma is the fact that when counties set out at the start of the 2011 League back last February, each one understood its fate depending on where they finished in their respective division.

Now, some months later, after the League has concluded, the finishing positions for the teams at the bottom of Division 1 and the top of Division 2 count for nought. It is blatantly unfair.

Making the situation all the more difficult to comprehend is the fact that late last year Central Council sought to introduce League semi-finals. It was made clear that this required a rule change at Congress (because the extra game was adding one more weekend to the overall schedule).

When the subsequent motion was passed at the Mullingar Congress in April, everyone (this writer included) assumed that it was a mere formality for Central Council to amend the League structures for 2012 by adding semi-finals.

I have no idea how we eventually ended up with Central Council considering a series of amended League structures some time ago, before eventually opting for two groups of six teams with the top three in Division 1A and the winner of Division 1B qualifying for the semi-finals.

When a number of alternative League structures were proposed some months ago, that should have been a signal for the so-called stronger hurling counties to immediately put a plan in place to ensure their preferred structure was adopted.

When the initial two six-team group structure was adopted some weeks ago there was understandable uproar from the top eight counties.

Hostile reception

Amazingly, a few had supported the proposal. We now know that the efforts of that group to come up with a revised structure met with what can only be described as a hostile reception from other counties.

It appears that they took umbrage at the manner in which the ‘big eight’ went about seeking to have the original decision over-turned. It is a shame, for hurling’s sake, that we now end up with a result that suits no one.

It is a shame also that the League structure we have for 2012 has come about because of disagreement and tension among counties. Hurling ultimately ended up being the loser in the process.

The League structures for 2012 were finally decided by the county representatives who attended the Central Council meeting in Croke Park last week. If there are to be further changes in the future, it is those same county representatives who will have to vote on any new proposals.

While some counties remain very unhappy with last week’s decision, it is best that everyone moves on. The hurling world has suffered enough turmoil over the past few weeks.