Ciarán Murphy: Stakes still high for Galway and Limerick
Defeat on Sunday could see losers left out in the cold following a restructured league
An eight-team Division One could take place without either Limerick or Galway next season. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Galway and Limerick meet this weekend in Division 1B of the Allianz Hurling League in what was supposed to be a straight shoot-out to see who finishes top of the pile and earns promotion.
The fixtures were specifically compiled with a last-day showdown between these two in mind . . . at least, that’s how Davy Fitzgerald, the Wexford manager saw it.
“Everything was kind of against us – the main match was meant to be the last game. They can have it now and do whatever they like, I don’t care.
“Wexford are put out to play Galway and Limerick in the first two games and it was all meant to come down to Galway and Limerick in the last game, so we are happy.”
Davy was of course speaking in the context of his Wexford team having already secured promotion with a game to spare against Offaly two weeks ago, after those two brilliant wins over Limerick (at home) and Galway (away). And you’d have to say he probably has a point, which makes their promotion – which he proclaimed loudly was beyond them at the start of the league – all the sweeter.
There are straws in the wind currently suggesting that a reversion to an eight-team Division One is on the cusp of a return, which means that while Galway-Limerick may seem like a bit of a dead rubber, given both teams are guaranteed a quarter-final place regardless of the result, this game could still be one where promotion is at stake.
The fact that these rumours are being discussed openly, without confirmation of anything from Croke Park, is in itself disappointing. It only lends weight to the idea that a special congress, with hurling at its centre, should be held in the autumn of this year – the aim of which must be to try and co-ordinate a schedule for hurling – in league and championship – that takes into account the ‘Super 8’ proposals that will come into force in football in 2018.
It’s pretty much a minimal requirement that you start every competition with a clear outline of what rewards and risks are there for you if you fall short. In the absence of that clarity, it behoves both Galway and Limerick to treat it as a promotion play-off, whether or not it ends up being one.
Limerick, in particular, are aware of the vicissitudes of promotion and relegation. They have been out of the top flight since 2010, and even though they have twice finished top of the second tier, in that second tier they have nevertheless remained.
In 2011, they finished top of an eight-team Division Two, only to see the league restructured into its current two-groups-of-six format. In 2013, they won more points than everyone else again, only to lose a play-off between themselves and Dublin, who had finished second to them.
The unfairness of that situation led to that top-two play-off being scrapped the following year . . . cold comfort for Limerick, it’s safe to assume. An unexpected, or at least unannounced, promotion for them is probably overdue at this stage.
Limerick won a Munster title from Division 1B in 2013, and ran Kilkenny to a couple of points in that epic All-Ireland semi-final in the rain a year later, so maybe they don’t necessarily see it as vital to their championship chances.
For Galway it is a more hard-headed equation perhaps, but losing in the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday would be a further promotional calamity, on top of losing that match against Wexford at home last month which would have put them in charge of their own destiny.
Galway need big marquee home fixtures in February and March, because they are currently not getting any during the championship. The situation that has been allowed to develop which means they do not play home games in the Leinster championship has gone on too long, and Congress provided no closure on the issue either.
I’m sure the Galway County Board cursed last year’s relegation play-off defeat to Cork (previously winless in the division) longer and louder than anyone else west of the Shannon. The difference between welcoming Kilkenny to Pearse Stadium, and welcoming Kerry, is stark – not simply in a competitive playing sense but also in a financial sense.
If the change to an eight-team Division One goes through, and Galway are not a part of it, then they will play seven games against teams nowhere near their championship level next season.
Put that with the continuation of a ban on home championship games and the knock-on effect will be a major urban centre (with an interest in hurling if not an obsession) not hosting one game capable of sparking the attention of the floating sports fan.
Galway can only keep doing what they have to do – and that includes being first in line after this Sunday to take advantage of what will happen next.