Meyler happy new league format will benefit teams’ real objectives
Cork manager believes next year’s league will facilitate preparation for championship
John Meyler: “There are a couple of objectives in the league: one is to be competitive and win matches and two is to introduce new players.” Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho
This weekend sees the final divisional action – or so the GAA will be fervently hoping – of the now abandoned hierarchical hurling league structure. Next season will see a broader based top division of 12 counties, this season’s final 1A and 1B, split into two equal groups.
The most obvious impact on this year’s competition has been the elimination of any prospect of relegation from 1A and the only change to the top 12 will be adjusted this weekend when Offaly and Carlow play the 1B relegation playoff and in 2A when Westmeath and Kerry meet to decide who goes up.
In a way it’s strange that the change was made.
The twin objectives of the outgoing system were to maintain a merit-based top flight and through the initially much criticised quarter-finals, pairing the top four in 1A and 1B, help the lower-division counties to develop as well as to provide additional gate revenue for those whose five regulation matches had included just two at home.
This developmental aspect has been so successful that since the format’s introduction in 2014, three counties from 1B have gone on to win the league title and even more impressively the last two All-Ireland winners have come from the division.
Nonetheless the view emerged from the top division that it was so cut-throat, it left no scope for experimenting with panellists without courting relegation. Consequently next season will see mixed-ability groups in the top division and no quarter-finals – the top two in each group will proceed to semi-finals, as before 2014.
Despite the availability of a relegation playoff – which at one stage allowed a Cork team with no points relegate Galway, who had four – this year’s removal of the threat has been a help, according to current Cork manager John Meyler, who has had to juggle injuries and 11 players involved with Fitzgibbon Cup finalists UCC and Mary Immaculate.
“It has. There are a couple of objectives in the league: one is to be competitive and win matches and two is to introduce new players but in 1A last year you weren’t going to throw in a 19-year-old because it’s too competitive.
“This year it’s been a little less intense and there’s been more room for manoeuvre and it afforded me the opportunity to use the likes of Robert Downey and Ger Mellerick whereas when it’s ultra-competitive, you don’t get that chance. Relegation from 1A is also an issue of losing resources so that’s a motivation as well.”
The more common criticism of the league structure has been how compacted the schedules have become with the result that last weekend’s bad weather threw a spanner in the works of the tight timetable.
As a result final league positions are still being worked out this Sunday when the calendar had listed the quarter-finals. The knock-on effect is likely to see the final being played on the same weekend as the football equivalent.
Meyler isn’t convinced by the criticism
“No. Teams come back on 1st December; that’s when we were officially allowed back training. You train in December and January, eight weeks with no [league] games. From the end of January you play and it’s a tight schedule. It was just unfortunate that the weather was bad last Sunday.
“I thought it might have been played midweek or something but it goes ahead on Sunday. Players just want to play and if the pitch is good – and Páirc Uí Rinn is excellent – it’s fine.”
Neither does he see the dilution of the standard in the top divisions next season as a difficulty, given his view that the league’s primary purpose is to prepare for an increasingly demanding championship.
“It will still be competitive. All of the counties are playing each other in the provinces now. You might have had two games in the province before; now you have four at least. That develops players as well.
“It’s so competitive that it’s an enjoyment for supporters – if not for managers!”