After prolonged indecision we finally have a league format for 2014. Nothing changes bar the introduction of quarter-finals and this system will stay in place now for three years.
So, after all the tossing about of alternative formats we’re left with the status quo. It’s an outcome that doesn’t please Cork or Limerick who will have to ply their wares in section 1B; Carlow and Westmeath are quite peeved too after being confined to division two when they’d sought a ‘super-fourteen’ solution, which would have inserted them in the top bracket.
Devising the perfect league format has occupied minds for decades now and no matter what system you put in place there will always be dissenters. Remember the old two-act system prior to the change in 1997. At that stage the league was split between pre and post-Christmas with a few games in the fall of the year and the remainder in the spring.
There are some commentators who still hanker after that format though it always struck me as disjointed. In any case the proliferation of club activity at this stage of the year means a return to the old format is less practical now.
Cork lost the relegation play-off to Clare last spring and for that reason alone they can have few quibbles about playing division 1B in 2014. There is the theory out there that Cork always get their way so from that perspective it’s probably best that they were out-voted this time.
In any case last year’s league proved utterly irrelevant when it came to the championship so I don’t see why teams get too revved-up about whether they’re in 1A or 1B.
One element of next year’s structure which I have major reservations about is the introduction of quarter-finals. It’s not totally clear but the suggestion seems to be that the top four from each group will compete in the ‘quarters’. That means that four out of six teams go into the knock-outs which has the potential to render some games meaningless. One of the virtues of last year’s format was that every match was a virtual knock-out affair with little scope for slippage.
I’d be more inclined to reward group winners with a bye to the semis and then play-off a pair of ‘quarters’ among the second and third teams from each section. Anyway we’ll have to wait for the small print of the system to see exactly what emerges.
Dublin take Cork’s place in division 1A this time so once again it’s going to be a very competitive section with Clare, Galway, Kilkenny, Waterford and Tipperary completing the sestet. I assume we’ll have Waterford and Galway at home this time and we’ll be ‘away’ to Clare and Kilkenny so the Dublin tie will be the odd one. We had them in Thurles for the league semi last year so perhaps we’ll be travelling to headquarters this time. Either way it’s going to be a tough schedule of fixtures.
Meanwhile the club series is down to provincial finals after last week’s action. Wasn’t it quite comical listening to Keith Rossiter being interviewed after their great win over Kilcormac/Killoughey. The Oulart full back was heavily focused on playing Ballyboden in the Leinster final. Singing their praises, he was, with all their Dublin county players and how difficult they’d be in the final.
Neither he, nor anyone else, anticipated the shock of the series with Carlow’s Mount Leinster Rangers pulling off a major coup against the Dublin champions. It sets up a novel final.
The problem for Oulart-the-Ballagh is trying to string together some consistency. Last year they took out Ballyhale Shamrocks but couldn’t complete the job. This time they again dismissed the Kilkenny champions as well as the reigning Leinster kings so surely it will be their turn to take the provincial honours now. They certainly looked impressive in that second half on Sunday.
In Munster it seems there’s no stopping Clare at the moment, that proverbial rising tide lifting all vessels ‘Bannerside’. Midleton went in as favourites but came up short against the Clare champs who drove on especially in the second half. They got a break or two, I suppose, with those first half Cork wides proving costly as well as that goal chance for Conor Lehane skimming the wrong side of the upright at a critical juncture in the second period. But there’s a swagger to Clare hurling at the moment, which makes them difficult opponents for everyone.
Quote of the week goes to the Midleton manager: ‘I still think we were the better team’. Even when they lose in Cork they’re still the best.
The final will be fascinating. Na Piarsaigh, as recent winners, might be slight favourites but I see it as quite an even affair with the potential to go either way. I haven’t heard of a venue by writing time; hopefully it will be nearby.
For Loughmore the season is over after their heavy second half fall to Dr. Crokes in Killarney. Nobody expected them to win but I suspect many thought they’d battle a lot closer to ‘Gooch’ and company. They did just that for over half the game but then, following the first dismissal, the challenge seemed to collapse.
There’s an issue for Loughmore out of their Munster experience this year in both codes: discipline. In two games they had four players sent off. You can excuse individual, maybe isolated, incidents but four in two games take on the appearance of a pattern. They’ve got much deserved praise this year for their remarkable county double but those red cards represent a darker side.
Locally the major item still to be played out is that much-maligned U21 grade. With the divisions only around semi-final stage we can presumably expect this one to stretch into Christmas. I see this as a major blotch on the GAA character. You’ll hear all sorts of excuses about tie-ups with other grades and overlaps and whatnot but don’t believe the spin. A lack of willpower is at the heart of this shameful denigration of a fine grade. And it has always been thus since U21 was initiated around half a century ago.
P.S. Fancy a giggle? Watch the interview with Wexford defender Tomas Waters from his hospital bed in St. Vincent’s. You’ll locate it on the website www.hoganstand.com.