Hurling league destined for a frantic finale
All six teams in top flight still have everything to play for
A greater levelling of the hurling playing field “will happen in time” if the current league scenario is anything to go by, according to the GAA’s director of development and research, Pat Daly.
Daly is also part of the National Hurling Development Work Group, which drew up and introduced the current league format two years ago.
The exciting nature of this year’s competition has left many people talking about another hurling revolution.
“Unfortunately, having divisions of eight teams just wasn’t resulting in fair, competitive games, or in some cases even meaningful games,” says Daly.
“What we have now with six teams, in each division, is exactly that, right the way down to the lower divisions . .
“The challenge in hurling is always to find meaningful, competitive games, with a realistic prospect of success, and I think this league format has certainly delivered that. Even looking at Division 1B, Carlow are currently at the bottom, but were unfortunate in a lot of their games not to come away with some points.”
Such is the crowding around the top in Division 1A, the GAA have issued a reminder of exactly how teams will be separated should they finish on equal points – as well they might.
Incredibly, all six teams in Division 1A could be level after Sunday’s final round of games, if Galway beat Waterford, and Tipperary-Clare and Kilkenny-Cork both end in a draw.
Nothing is yet certain as to who will make the semi-finals, or who will face the play-off for relegation.
All six teams could go either way, depending on victory or defeat, while only the team which finishes safely in fourth will be left with nothing to play for.
If two teams finish level, the outcome of their previous meeting or head-to-head will prove decisive.
However if three or more teams finish level, scoring difference (subtracting the total scores against from total scores for) must apply. If scoring difference is the same (also a possibility) then it comes down to the highest total score for, and after that, finally, a play-off.
What pleases Daly is the bigger picture – that more counties now appear capable of contesting for the league title, which can then lead to a more competitive championship.
“I think it’s still a little premature for that kind of talk, but I do think it will happen in time. I think we will always have the top three, Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary, but I would be happy the field is levelling out a bit, and that Galway obviously, and also Clare, Waterford, Dublin and Limerick are getting up there. Wexford and Offaly maybe have a bit more to go, but it means we have eight teams now with very realistic prospects of success. That’s all good for the development of hurling . . . .
“I believe as well this is spreading across hurling. We’ve just seen another club, St Thomas, will the All-Ireland club title for the first time, and the same last year, with Loughgiel Shamrocks. We’ve never had as many people playing hurling, and the important thing in the overall development of that is to provide meaningful, competitive games.”
Sunday’s final round of games seem impossible to predict: the combined margin of victory or defeat between the six counties last Sunday was a mere two points, Kilkenny beating Clare by point, Waterford beating Tipperary by a point, while Cork drew with Galway.
This leaves Waterford at the top, and they now only need a draw against Galway to make the semi-finals, while Galway must at least draw to avoid the relegation play-off. Kilkenny, Cork, Tipperary and Clare do need a win to make the semi-finals.
“Kilkenny will always be a force, same as Cork and Tipperary,” says Daly. “But I think the great thing about this league is that no team can afford to lose a game. We’ve seen that. In the past, or in the eight-team division, they could afford to lose a game or two, and still amble on.”
When Counties Finish on Equal Points
teams in the previous game in the competition will be decisive
(ii) Scoring Difference (subtracting the total scores against from total scores for);
(iii) Highest total score for;
(iv) A play-off.
Top three teams advance to the semi-finals: Top team Division 1A v winners Division 1B; 2nd team Div 1A v 3rd team Div 1A.
The bottom two teams contest a relegation play-off; losing team is relegated to Division 1B
Top two teams contest the final with the winners being promoted to Division 1A for 2014 and also advancing to this year’s league semi-final.
Bottom two teams contest relegation play-off; losers relegated to Division 2A (this format applies down through the various divisions).