John Fogarty: Will hurling league be collateral damage again?

Opening the Allianz Hurling League with the two biggest games of the weekend under lights this Saturday rings a mite hollow
John Fogarty: Will hurling league be collateral damage again?

LIGHT IT UP: The sun sets behind the stand before the Allianz Hurling League semi-final between Cork and Kilkenny at Páirc Ui Chaoimh in 2022. Pic: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Opening the Allianz Hurling League with the two biggest games of the weekend under lights this Saturday rings a mite hollow.

From former Cork, Tipperary, and Kilkenny mentors Ger Cunningham, Michael Ryan, and Martin Fogarty to greats such as the O’Connor twins Ben and Jerry, John Mullane, and Noel McGrath, and for all the obvious reason there is the significant school of thought against games of note being played with the aid of light emitting diodes.

Yes, the sun sets barely beyond 5pm. And, yes, the quality of those floodlights in Páirc Uí Chaoimh are excellent and Wexford are only right to show off their new set, which illuminated a cracking Walsh Cup game between the hosts and Kilkenny recently. But couldn’t one of the games have been moved to the following afternoon?

Not that players will mind much when they have an extra day to recover nor supporters. Just as starved crowds welcomed the first proper inter-county football weekend in 27 weeks, the attendances in Ballintemple and Wexford town will be just as handsome. Whether those numbers will be sustained as the competition develops is the question.

The league isn’t what it was, certainly not since superior versions of it were introduced to the Leinster and Munster championships in 2018. As a portent of things to come, it is unreliable. In the three seasons of the provincial round-robin era (2018-19 and 2022), neither league finalist has later appeared in the All-Ireland decider. “Our hurling leagues are not competitive,” stated Central Competitions Control Committee chairman Derek Kent last September.

“I think they have to bring more value back into the league,” suggested John Kiely. “I think it’s been devalued and that’s a very retrograde step.”

There would be an opponent or two of Kiely’s who would argue it was Limerick who weakened its stock these last two seasons. After 13 wins from 15 round games between 2018 and ‘20, they have won three from 10 since 2021, two of those wins coming against Westmeath and Offaly. Their poorest league return in Kiely’s time came last year when they needed to beat Offaly in the final round to avoid a relegation play-off. As facile as that win was, they found themselves in that situation as a result of prioritising what they were doing during the week over their exploits at the weekend. “We did struggle to keep that energy flowing for the full week every week and at times we didn’t get the energy exerted out of the group as a whole on a Sunday during the spring that we would like to have had,” acknowledged Kiely.

“It just wasn’t there because we had a block of work to do during the week to get prepared for the championship.”

Another indifferent league run by Limerick followed by a fourth consecutive All-Ireland title and the secondary competition will have to be rescripted. And that’s not to say others won’t be emulating their approach in the weeks ahead. As Kiely has signalled his concern about the condensed nature of the season, the league is the something that has had to give. But can hurling afford more of its leading lights to show a blithe-like attitude to a competition that comprised almost 42% of Limerick’s season in 2022?

When football is about to get a whole lot bigger in the form of 20 additional Sam Maguire Cup games this summer, is the small ball game at risk of being diminished? Hurling will dominate from April 22 to June 11 but it will surrender to football thereafter. In those seven weeks, there will be 27 provincial championship games compared to 32 football games between the provinces and the first two rounds of the Sam Maguire Cup groups.

From June 18 to July 24, there will be seven Liam MacCarthy Cup fixtures. A natural distillation of a competition, you might say and with good reason, but in that same period there will be 18 Sam Maguire Cup games. It shouldn’t go unnoticed that due to the confluence of Sky Sports’ exit as a media rights partner, those extra football matches and RTÉ’s live championship game total remaining at 31, nine Liam MacCarthy Cup games will be streamed this year.

The GAAGo season pass is excellent value at €79 for 38 games but as the second largest carrier of championship games to terrestrial RTÉ, it’s a major step-up for the service.

Combine those factors and as many as five of the 11 Munster SHC games won’t be live on television this year. All but one were shown live on TV in 2021.

In a similar vein to this weekend’s top-heavy Saturday, the possibility of the Leinster and Munster finals taking place on the same day is also a promotional faux pas. A side effect of the split season, perhaps, but one that will need fixing.

Have we seen the last of guard of honour?

Covid restrictions may have given it the final hoosh but the traditional guard of honour for the visiting All-Ireland champions was on its way out before the pandemic.

Who knows, Cork may revive it when Limerick come to Páirc Uí Chaoimh this Saturday evening but it wasn’t present in Ballybofey on Sunday as Kerry emerged from the tunnel.

Not that it appeared to bother the visitors as it really doesn’t seem to be the done thing anymore. At the very least, it’s no longer considered mandatory. No corridor was formed by Monaghan in Clones in 2019 when the previous year’s kingpins Dublin came out onto the St Tiernach’s Park pitch for the opening league game. Monaghan won too.

The likes of Dublin, Kerry, and Mayo have shown such respect to one another in recent times when paired in Round 1 as have Limerick, Tipperary, and Kilkenny in hurling but the chances are little offence is now taken in the absence of a guard.

That wasn’t always the case. In 2003, Tyrone chose not to stand and cheer on their neighbours and All-Ireland champions Armagh in the fifth round of the league in Omagh. Before they reached Healy Park Dublin and Donegal had saluted Joe Kernan’s side.

“We felt it was a total lack of respect but they had it in the back of their heads that they wanted to be the first team to beat us as All-Ireland champions and they did,” recalled former Armagh star forward Stevie McDonnell.

In Saturday’s Irish Examiner, former Louth goalkeeper Colm Nally told Declan Bogue of his reluctance in giving champions Kerry an ovation onto the pitch in their league opener a few weeks after they won the 2000 All-Ireland final replay. Nally barely applauded and made a save to help give Louth the win.

As Donegal snubbed Kerry on Sunday, maybe there’s something in ditching the hospitality.

Promote the anthem? Let the band play it

The GAA on Monday launched an awareness initiative to promote ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the national anthem being published in Irish.

“Our anthem is a part of who we are,” said GAA president Larry McCarthy. “‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ is an integral part of a GAA match day and it is a special occasion when sung by a packed crowd at a game.

“Promoting an understanding of and appreciation and respect for our anthem is extremely important and is greatly appreciated.”

In match programme notes last year, McCarthy stressed the importance of more attention being paid to the song. In May 2021, a new match regulation was introduced which insisted teams “shall stand to attention respectfully facing the flag for the full duration of the anthem”.

Possibly as a means of ensuring that, it continued: “At least 30 seconds will be provided to teams after the anthem, this is to allow for any team huddles or warm-ups before they are required to get into position for the start of the game.”

At a Central Council meeting last year, it was suggested that more respect is paid to the anthem when a singer delivers it rather than a recording of the PA system. That may be true but it isn’t a dirge or a lament as it is so often warbled. Only when a band plays it, as was intended, is it truly honoured.


More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd