Eamon O’Shea believes there must be better way to run the National Hurling League

Despite finishing top of the table, Tipperary manager wants the structure changed

Tipperary manager Eamon O'Shea gives Lar Corbett instructions at Semple Stadium on Sunday.  Photograph: Lorraine O'Sullivan/Inpho

Tipperary manager Eamon O'Shea gives Lar Corbett instructions at Semple Stadium on Sunday. Photograph: Lorraine O'Sullivan/Inpho


If there’s ever a good time to shine a light on the flaws of a league, it’s an hour after you finish on top of it. Eamon O’Shea leaned against a wall in Semple Stadium on Sunday and professed himself both delighted and astonished at how it all shook out.

Tipperary were comfortably the highest scorers in Division 1A but it was their win over Kilkenny in the second round that earned them top spot.

Yet, as O’Shea pointed out, the sprint nature of the league meant that had they not just taken care of business so emphatically against Clare the difference in consequences could have been vastly outweighed the difference in outcomes. Which, when you’re sitting down to plan a competition, must stand as a fairly glaring flaw.

“I could have been standing here going into a relegation battle as well,” he said. “I think you’re going to have to think about the way we structure the league because we’re going Sunday after Sunday. You don’t have time to do much training, you don’t have time to recover.

“That’s a young Clare team that was working really hard to get up a level and it maybe took its toll five Sundays in a row. Now, it’s not for me to comment on another team or anything like that. But I do think it’s time that maybe we took a look at the league. You have to give players time, especially amateur players, to recover. You don’t recover in a week.”

O’Shea didn’t exactly have any fully-formed plans of his own to bring to the table, although in fairness he wasn’t claiming omniscience on the matter either. He did though feel it unfair that the margins had become so tight that there was no room in the league for experimentation.

The six-team league created excitement for the public but it would be difficult to argue that it helped the counties in terms of their preparation for the championship. More teams would mean more variety and, crucially, more wiggle room in which managers could try new things.

“Personally I would prefer to see 10 teams in the league,” said O’Shea. “I mean, if you look at the statistics, you can get relegated winning 40 per cent of your games. If you transferred that across to the Premier League or anything like that, I’d say the points level is up towards 50 points.”

Highest points total
As it happens, a team winning 40 per cent of its games in a Premier League season would end up with 46 points (well, 45.6 but let’s not drill down to the earth’s core, eh?). O’Shea’s basic point is correct, however. In the history of the Premier League, the highest points total anyone has been relegated with is the 42 that took West Ham down in 2002/’03.

Queens Park Rangers stayed up last year with 37 points, which shakes out at a winning ratio of around 32 per cent. Forty-six points would have got you 13th place in that table, comfortable mid-table mediocrity. The higher the number of teams, the more room for error. Considering that this is the time of year when those errors are supposed to carry least penalty, O’Shea’s idea of increasing the league to 10 teams could have something to say for itself.

“Start it in February and just run it through,” he said. “Forget your football Sundays. We all have big squads. The likes of Dublin, Limerick, Offaly and Wexford, I’d like to be playing those teams as well. I’d like to see two up and two down and we get the next two teams up and we try to raise standards. Now that’s just my own view but I think it is too tight. Having Cork or Clare go down in my view is not right.”

Chances are, that will be the nub of any change if and when it comes. For all the potential excitement of Sunday’s last round of games, it will be interesting to see what happens if, say, Cork are condemned to a year in Division 1B. Shouldn’t make any difference, of course. But that’s not to say it won’t.

“You could have a super four competition over a weekend. Build it up into a super weekend. Like Fitzgibbon Cup. Have a festival of hurling. Get a stadium with 30,000 or 40,000 people and link it to something else,” said O’Shea.