New Munster hurling format carries fears with cheers
Walking away from Semple Stadium on Saturday night, you couldn’t but be excited about what lies ahead this summer. Returning to his car in the gathering gloom, Limerick secretary Mike O’Riordan gave a hearty salute. His county may have lost but they are anything but down. The league has finally been good to Limerick both in a development and financial regard. What’s more, the Gaelic Grounds will host three high-profile Munster championship matches across May and June. Happy days? Not yet. But certainly happier.
Minutes earlier in the dressing room corridor, Limerick manager John Kiely had been articulating that pep in O’Riordan’s step. Michael Ryan had done so also when forecasting how competitive the provincial championship is going to be. All the three men have ever known is knock-out hurling but they exhibited a giddiness about what lies in wait with the new round-robin structure.
My father, who has a few years on them, is the same. Returning to my car where he had been waiting, he was so inquisitive about the fixtures schedule and how the new format will operate that the Munster website had to be called up. He knew the answers but wanted reassurance. Yes, Tipperary will play four games in four straight weekends. So will Waterford. Yes, the Tipperary-Waterford game is in Limerick. Yes, there still is a Munster final.
The importance of that last one shouldn’t be lost on anybody.
That the title is won on a day rather than a series of games is what makes it a championship. It’s more than just a nod to the past but an affirmation of its very being. The last team beaten is the last team knocked out.
My father is a traditionalist - whose isn’t? - and there remains part of him that yearns for when everything was on the line every day. He appreciates that cannot be the case anymore, that there is just too much put in for it all to go up in smoke on one afternoon, but it’s with an element of trepidation that he looks ahead to the championship.
That sentiment must be shared by a lot of hurling followers. Hurling needed more games - more, it could be argued, in the latter part of the summer than the beginning - but there is a danger of quantity trumping quality.
It’s possible that a team could make the final having lost two of their four matches. The potential for dead rubbers is also a concern.
It may take the full three years of the trial basis to gauge if those fears are warranted or not but there are most certainly reasons to be worried about the logistics of switching from a four-game competition run over seven weeks to an 11-game one organised over six.
In his column last month, former Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) secretary and Irish Examiner columnist Jack Anderson rightly asked if the GAA’s disciplinary system is equipped to cope with the unprecedented demands that will be placed on it by the provincial hurling championship formats and the Super All-Ireland football quarter-final stages.
Scheduling Central Hearings Committee, Central Appeals Committee and DRA hearings on top of the obligatory Monday Central Competition Controls Committee gatherings between weekends will prove quite the chore. Can justice be served in such tight timeframes?
A primary concern must be what pressure the intensity schedules put on players. We’re told that they love games but when such significant matches are being staged over a short period how much rest and recovery can they squeeze in if they are expected back at work the following day.
The profile afforded to games may also be damaged by the fact that games clash. It’s understandable, for the sake of fairness, that the final round games are played at the same time but then the fourth round fixtures are too, while there will be a slight overlap between second-round matches.
It may be considered a traditionalist view but Munster SHC games had always been considered standalone occasions.
There is also the question of grounds’ suitability. Walsh Park, as we learned last week, won’t be a Munster SHC venue until 2020. Ennis’ Cusack Park is a fine town venue but there are elements of it that require updating. The concrete ground close to the sideline, on which Tipperary senior football selector Shane Stapleton fell and suffered concussion in February, is far from ideal.
The positives of what waits around the corner would appear to outweigh the negatives. A stadium like the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh, for example, should be occupied regularly.
A game as good as that provided by Tipperary and Limerick on Saturday has only amplified the anticipation but this brave new world carries a health warning.
Email: john.fogarty @examiner.ie
All for one and one for all in video sharing?
“Nobody knows what is going on behind anybody’s dressing room door. That is the reality. We don’t know what is going on in Kerry. They don’t know what is going on up here.”
Thus said Jim McGuinness before the 2014 All-Ireland final, although those words came back to haunt him a little when someone attempted to take a peek behind a closed-doors training session in Fitzgerald Stadium before the game. McGuinness denied involvement but couldn’t deny association with the individual in question.
Secrecy remains en vogue. For example, Con O’Callaghan became Paddy Andrews on Sunday when he came on wearing his No15 jersey, a change which hadn’t been announced prior to throw-in. For their Division 3 final on Saturday, Armagh introduced players numbered 30 and 31, who hadn’t been listed.
So news, presented by the42.ie yesterday, that 22 inter-county football teams are sharing footage of their league matches on WhatsApp is quite the development. How long such co-operation lasts is the question but it would seem to run against the nature of the leading sides. There may be honour among thieves in such circumstances as the infamous Dublin-Armagh challenge a few years back when the counties adopted the three wise monkeys approach, but more often than not, it’s everyone for themselves.
If there are protocols teams are using for their advantage, they sure as hell don’t want to be sharing them. For instance, urine tests are the norm nowadays for hydration purposes. As manager with Monaghan, Meath, and Wexford, Seamus McEnaney swore by them and former Mayo footballer David Brady spoke last year of how they were de rigueur for his team 12 years ago.
However, urine tests can be used to detect more than just how much water a player has on board. Sometimes it’s just sense teams are keeping hush.
Dublin a team for the ages
Please, let us not pass over Dublin’s latest triumph as just another win for them. It wasn’t for Jim Gavin, who so often has turned down the opportunity to shower them with plaudits.
Heaven knows he has had several chances to do so, from the time they went on their 36-game unbeaten run to last year’s All-Ireland final success. But his stock line has always been along the lines of their deeds being something to appreciate when they retire.
A big thanks to our sponsors and of course to the loyal Dublin fans for your incredible support throughout the #AllianzLeagues campaigns. See you all in May for Championship! 👌 pic.twitter.com/a9zC4uSHIQ— Dublin GAA (@DubGAAOfficial) April 1, 2018
On Sunday, however, he changed his tune. Their ability to follow up national success last September with more on the first day of April astounded him. “What they achieved last year was remarkable. The easy thing to do was to kick back, which they did. We didn’t see them until we had a two-week lead-up into the league. Maybe four big sessions (were) done. For them to go away and be so diligent with themselves... that’s what the remarkable thing about them is, that they’re always on script.”
Always on point, always on their guard, always on the money, there is so much to admire about this Dublin team and Gavin’s remarks about the humility of the group is accurate too. There are trappings that go with being a Dublin footballer but can anyone say that they have become a distraction for this current crop?
If Gavin thinks the win over Galway was “remarkable”, then you can take it as read that it was.
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