Hurling league format to be reviewed after next year’s competition
Despite proving controversial, the format has seen success on a number of fronts
Feargal McGill, the GAA’s head of games administration: “The problem was that five games weren’t enough so we had to look at more fixtures and the quarter-finals worked.” Photograph: Inpho
As the Allianz Hurling League reaches the final regulation weekend of the season, the GAA has confirmed the current format will be reviewed at the end of next year’s competition.
Although it has proved controversial on two fronts – the perseverance with six-team divisions in One A and One B and the introduction of quarter-finals between the top four in each group – recent seasons have proved successful in terms of competitiveness and the much criticised quarter-finals were at the heart of a substantial rise in league revenues in 2014.
Those figures jumped from €921,711 to €1,624,898, an increase of 76 per cent but it is the impact of the structure on the overall competitiveness of the game that is most highly valued by the GAA.
Feargal McGill, the GAA’s head of games administration and player welfare, was involved in devising the format says that it has so far fulfilled its objectives.
“Most people felt that the competitiveness in the two-by-six format was about right but the problem was that five games weren’t enough so we had to look at more fixtures and the quarter-finals worked. Revenue is important but the competitiveness even more so.
“In the past the format of dividing 12 counties into two random groups of six but that led to big beatings for some teams. In the past four years the average margin of defeat has fallen dramatically.”
The team most affected by the new departure has been Limerick, who won promotion in 2011 to Division One but the restructure took place before the following season and in the four years since the county has endured the frustration of topping the division in the two years when there was a promotion final, both of which they lost and since that was scrapped they haven’t managed to finish in first place.
The situation has been even worse for Limerick, as their attendances have suffered from the absence of most of their Munster rivals.
“We’ve been taking a hit on the gates,” says Limerick chair Oliver Mann, “but it’s not all about gate receipts either. I think the game is better off with an eight-team Division One. It gives greater scope to develop players.
“In the past two years we actually haven’t been beaten by the promoted teams. We drew with Cork last year and this year we’ve drawn with Waterford and beaten Wexford.
“Also it was fantastic that Kilmallock got to the All-Ireland club final but we missed the players. Look at the four counties with clubs in the All-Irelands during the week. Three of them - Kilkenny, ourselves and the Derry footballers - have had disappointing leagues. Having said that, if we’d gathered enough points we’d have been promoted.
Limerick though have ticked one of the boxes for any successful league format. Their championship performances have been excellent during the following summers. Munster champions in 2013 and All-Ireland semi-finalists again last year, they haven’t suffered any loss of competiveness in championship.
Cork followed suit last year by winning Munster after a spring in Division One B. McGill says that this proves one of the points underpinning the format.
“There was a widespread acceptance that you had to be hurling at the top level in the league to develop and improve. I disagree with that. To improve you need to play in a competitive environment and secondly, you have to have a real shot at success, which you have with this.
“The quarter-finals have allowed the teams in One B to have a chance to measure themselves against the top counties. It was a legitimate complaint from Wexford and Offaly that they needed to prepare for games against the likes of Kilkenny. Although none of them (One B teams) won a quarter-final last year they were highly competitive.”
He says however that the structure is fluid because the number of top competitive teams fluctuates.
“We’re going to have to revisit it soon enough because we have to look at the relative strengths of the counties and make sure the format is right.”