Three not proving a magic number for hurling counties
No team playing for a third weekend in a row has won a match in new championship format
Brendan Maher of Tipperary: “I wouldn’t like to use it as an excuse . . .It was poor decision-making; it wasn’t a physical thing that was the poor part of our game [against Waterford]. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
One issue to have emerged prominently from the new round-robin format in the provincial hurling championships is the three-week rule.
Because of the five-county formats of both Leinster and Munster, there is a week off for one county in every series of matches but some have to play four weekends in succession and others three whereas one team in each – Clare and Dublin – got the perfect draw of a break in the middle of the four matches.
The third week appears to have created problems for teams. None of the matches in which counties were playing for the third week running has yielded a win for them.
It could be argued that when this first arose, in Leinster the week before last, both Kilkenny and Offaly were underdogs in their matches with Galway and Wexford, respectively but both produced their poorest performances of the championship to date.
Last weekend Cork and Tipperary were on their third straight fixtures and both dropped points to Limerick and Waterford in matches they were favoured to win – Tipp were 1/6 and Cork were at home and facing opposition that was reduced to 14 before half-time.
Tipperary’s match against Waterford became notorious because of the controversial goal awarded to them but this overshadowed the latter’s extraordinary display despite being for various reasons short half of their team from last year’s All-Ireland final.
Tipp’s performances haven’t been impressive this year in any of the rounds but Sunday was meant to be a ‘gimme’ because of their opponents’ difficulties.
To what extent was the third week a factor?
“I wouldn’t like to use it as an excuse,” said Tipperary’s Brendan Maher, “because I had only half a game played in the first game and I think with the performance being so flat against Limerick, it wouldn’t have taken a lot out of us.
“I thought we were fresh coming into today. The weather was warm and ultimately it was poor decision-making; it wasn’t a physical thing that was the poor part of our game. It was bad decision-making and a couple of fumbles here and there and that’s not physical. That’s a mental thing and we need to get that right for next Sunday.”
In Leinster, Wexford went down to their first defeat. Like Kilkenny, they had the poor luck of the draw to face All-Ireland champions Galway in the third week.
“If you look at the teams that played their third week last week,” said manager Davy Fitzgerald, “Kilkenny probably were a bit flat against Galway. Offaly were the same thing. We had that today so I’m dreading to think what it’ll be like next week [they face Kilkenny in what is effectively a provincial semi-final].
“We are in no doubt that Galway were the better team today and beat us all over the place. But I just think we are a lot better than we were [on Saturday]. If we were a bit fresher, we would be a lot better than that.”
For Offaly’s Kevin Martin, the system did his team no favours. The weakest of the playing panels in Leinster, the county ended up with fixtures for the first four weeks in a row, a season that ended in relegation when Dublin beat them comfortably on Sunday in what was more or less the province’s relegation play-off.
“These guys are amateurs, they’re not professionals,” was his reaction. “You take the Leinsters [rugby] of this world, if they have three or four weeks in a row, they’ll rotate their squad about three times. They’re professional guys that can sit around the next day and get rub-outs and relax.
“These guys have to go and do a day’s work. Some of them are farmers and electricians and they just don’t have the energy levels for that.
“It takes its toll on every team and you’ll probably see it again with Wexford next weekend. Kilkenny are after getting the week off to freshen up. I can’t see Wexford beating Kilkenny either.
“Headquarters wanted to throw something – try to revive the championship . . . but it’s just not working for us anyway.”
The experimental structure will be reviewed by the GAA at the end of this summer.