League quarter-finals set to spark fixtures pile-up

The GAA are facing a hurling fixtures pile-up and a significant player welfare issue early in 2018 after the decision was taken to stick with the Allianz Division 1 quarter-finals.

Central Council on Saturday chose not to accept the Central Competitions Control Committee’s (CCCC) recommendation to axe them on the grounds that it would free up another weekend for clubs or at least provide counties with a breather in an already hectic schedule.

The games involving the top four in Division 1A and 1B will take place on March 11, meaning there will be no break weekend between the third round of the competition on February 17/18 and the final.

The two teams who make the decider must play six games in as many weeks.

Beginning on the weekend of January 28 and concluding on Saturday, March 24, there is only one break weekend now arranged — February 11 — in the top-flight, meaning eight game weekends out of nine.

The semi-finals are now scheduled to take place on March 18, part of a busy weekend for the GAA with round six of the Allianz Football League being played the same day and the All-Ireland senior clubs finals taking place the day before.

The CCCC had proposed the structure return to a variation of what existed in 2012 and ’13 when the knock-out stages comprised semi-finals, involving the top three in Division 1A and the Division 1B final winners, and a final.

They had hoped Central Council would see favour in semi-finals between the top three in Division 1A along with the team that finished at the peak of Division 1B after the five rounds.

It had been speculated by some observers that the changes to the provincial championship structure next year would compel managers into revising their strategies for the league and use it as a more developmental competition.

However, there is now the carrot of a trip to Australia in 12 months time for the 2018 Division 1 champions — the winners will face All-Ireland champions Galway in an exhibition game in Sydney. Yet the intense run of matches is now sure to stretch all panels while it is likely to further favour 1B teams — the last three champions have come from the division.

The quarter-finals have largely been maligned since they were introduced in 2014 following the relegation of Cork to Division 1B and it had been felt that five round matches was sufficient.

However, the anomaly that teams ranked ninth and 10th in the competitions (third and fourth in Division 1B) be rewarded with knock-out spots ahead of those teams fifth and sixth in Division 1A has never been addressed.

The quarter-finals have provided some lopsided results, particularly between those teams topping Division 1A and the fourth-placed teams.

Indeed, the average winning margin in the five seasons between the two has been 13 points.

In 2018, all but one of hurling’s senior inter-county league and championship action will be confined to five months — February, March, May, June, and July.

The All-Ireland final is the only season match that will be played in August.


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