Current league structure not allowing chasing pack to catch up
A fair chance should be afforded to all teams taking part in the Liam MacCarthy Cup
Clare celebrate victory over Cork at Croke Park after winning the county’s fourth All-Ireland senior hurling title. Photograph: Alan Betson.
Everybody involved in hurling is well aware of the fact that the All-Ireland senior championship (the Liam MacCarthy Cup) is the most sought after prize in this, the most artistic and thrilling of field sports. Most hurling followers are also fairly aware that this competition has been dominated by a very minuscule number of teams since the foundation of the GAA at the end of the 19th.
Maybe not all are aware that that small number is actually three, Kilkenny on top with 34 titles, followed by Cork with four less and Tipperary with four less again. Yes that’s a grand total of 90 titles between three counties out of a total of 126. Fair play to them. The best team in the competition wins the championship every year and the “Big Three” have, between them, dominated hurling since the first final was played way back in 1887.
But what about the other teams that take part in this Liam MacCarthy competition, why aren’t they winning more often? Well I don’t have the time or the newspaper space to forensically dissect each of those counties’ histories but I am of the opinion that they are getting very little help from the GAA (yes, I know, a very democratic organisation). But surely somebody of importance and power is aware of the above facts and are also aware that the secondary competition, the national league, as it’s currently structured, is anti the promotion of this special game. We now have a situation prevailing where the game is becoming elitist.
It has been monopolised by Kilkenny for the past number of years. Clare have pushed them off the top spot for now at least. Yes that’s Clare that spent 81 years in the wilderness. What a feat of survival to spend that long without winning the main prize available and still be willing to compete and be competitive year after year.
The chasing pack includes in no particular order Tipperary, Cork, Galway, Dublin, Limerick and Waterford.
From those teams Limerick with a total of seven titles haven’t won since 1973 and three of their titles were won within a seven-year period in the 1930s, so probably many of the same players played on the three teams. Dublin, with a half dozen titles, haven’t been successful since 1938. While Galway have the sum total of four titles, with one team winning twice in succession in the 1980s.
Wexford who are presently not, in my humble estimation, in the chasing pack, have six titles but again many of the same players winning three times between 1955 and 1960
And then there’s the rest with a handful of titles between them.
As the league structure stands, counties like Wexford, Offaly, Laois, Carlow, Westmeath and Antrim have very little chance of winning any major trophy and more importantly of promoting hurling in their counties.
When are we going to see Kilkenny or Galway playing in Antrim again or Tipp going to Carlow or Clare travelling to Westmeath to play in a meaningful game?
The structure of this present league, where there is no room for error, doesn’t give followers enough games, doesn’t give managers much scope for experimentation, and is totally stacked in favour of the top six.
This year’s version had the top team from 1A playing the fourth from 1B in a quarter-final and the second playing the third etc and then just in case we might give the lesser team any bit of an advantage there was a coin tossed for venue. And what about the top team in Division 2A, Kerry, who had then to play a final against the runner-up in that division, Carlow.
If they had lost that game their promotion was scuppered. Even if they won that game they weren’t guaranteed promotion. Well they did win the game but they now have to play Offaly (the bottom team in 1B) for the honour of joining the big boys in that division next season.
The league first division ( 1A and B), as it now stands, is like two championships with no room for error. It’s marginalising too many counties and should be scrapped and replaced with, either, two groups of six made up of three teams from the present 1A and 1B in each group or even one group of 12 with the top team being crowned champions. The Waterford Crystal, Walsh Cup competitions could join the Railway Cup in the “surplus to requirements” section of the Croke Park Museum.
The bottom line is that all counties need as many games as possible against better opposition. The followers need to see the top teams playing in their county grounds. The managements need to give more players game time. The lesser teams need to learn about themselves by playing against the better teams. Yes of course there will be one-sided games and the league as a whole mightn’t be as attractive to a section of the hurling public. But it is the league, a secondary competition.
Whatever way it’s dressed up or down by the powers that be, the fact is that there is one main competition that the top dozen teams are interested in winning. All other games are preparation for that. Surely a fair chance should be afforded to all the teams taking part in this Liam MacCarthy competition.