Last weekend saw the final round of fixtures in the group phase of the Allianz National Hurling League with quarter final places decided in Division 1. The quarter final draw pits the top four of Division 1A versus the top four of Division 1B. Clare, courtesy of finishing top of Division 1A will travel to Laois who finished fourth in Division 1B. Other pairings will see Wexford host Kilkenny, Galway visit the Gaelic Grounds to take on Limerick and Tipperary will host Cork in Thurles. Cork’s victory over Wexford on Sunday saw them confirm their seat at hurling’s top table as they were promoted back to Division 1A.
The relegation play-off pairings were also decided. Waterford will host Dublin in the 1A playoff with loser being consigned to Division 1B hurling in 2015. In the 1B playoff, Antrim will clash with Offaly with the loser facing being cut adrift of hurling’s upper echelons with relegation to Division 2A.
This year’s Division 1A was very closely contested as only three points separated Clare at the top of the table with Waterford and Dublin who finished on four points at the foot of the table. Both sides can count themselves unlucky to be in the relegation playoff despite both having won two of their five fixtures.
However for all the action and excitement there has been in this year’s league and is still to come, the format of the league remains a topic of discussion. Many pundits have lamented the current structure that appears to cut peripheral Liam McCarthy Cup teams like Carlow and Westmeath to Division 2A and also cuts adrift teams such as Wexford and Offaly from the top teams of Division 1A.
These counties have been strong opponents of the current format in place since 2012. Previous to this there was an eight team Division 1 and an 8 team Division 2 that were not mixed, unlike the current model that mixes both top divisions. However, each league format has only lasted a handful of years as the previous model was only in place since 2009.
However the GAA look set to persevere with the current model as in November last, they decided on a three year extension of the current format with the introduction of quarter finals. This was the only change as in the previous three years; the top three of Division 1A and top team in Division 1B contested the League semi finals.
Carlow and Westmeath had hoped to expand the current format to seven teams in Division 1A and 1B while Offaly were in favour of all Liam McCarthy Cup teams being split equally to create two groups in Division 1.
He feels the top tier of the League is very competitive tough hurling to almost a championship level and very good for spectators; however it takes out of some teams who are in a lower division attempting to prepare for Championship.
He feels in particular that Carlow and Westmeath are not been given an opportunity to compete at the highest level despite these counties having success at underage level. As a result of this, interest will remain low in hurling in counties outside the elite group. “We (the GAA) are not doing enough to promote the game of hurling in counties that actually want to do that and Carlow and Westmeath come to the fore mind.”
Mulcahy alluded to the progress Dublin have made in the last decade, building on underage success which has culminated in League and Leinster success, however they were given the opportunity to compete at the highest level unlike Carlow and Westmeath.
“They have a blueprint document in Dublin where they have worked on it for the last ten years, relative to coaching structures and school structures. That same document should be allowed happen in Carlow and Westmeath because the counties are interested in hurling and the counties are interested in taking part at the highest level.”
The structure which Mulcahy feels would be best for hurling would be a two group Division 1 featuring all Liam McCarthy Cup teams. The groups would be split based on the previous year’s Championship with the All Ireland finalists being in opposite groups, the losing semi finalists in opposite groups and so on. This would be of benefit to the lesser counties such as Carlow and Westmeath as they would be competing against the top teams which would in turn better their progression.
“Wouldn’t it be lovely for the likes of Kilkenny going to Carlow for a National League match or Tipperary going to Westmeath for a National League match, it would bring out big crowds there.”
Mulcahy feels that this work in the lesser counties deserves to be rewarded by giving them their opportunity in the elite group. However at the moment this format will make the gap between the elite group and the second tier even bigger and as result it will harm the development of hurling in these counties.
“You have a lot of people putting a lot of time and effort into hurling and I think they should get their just reward by competing in the National League rather than being down lower tiers, smaller crowds going to matches, and does that give an incentive to a younger generation coming up to want to choose that sport or choose another sport?”
He feels that it would not just be beneficial to these counties but also to the sport itself, “hurling needs Wexford and it needs Offaly and as I said about Carlow and Westmeath, they all need to be playing at the highest level.”
What do you think? Should there be changes to the structures of the Hurling Leagues? Would it help the weaker counties? Comment and let us know what you think.