JOHN FOGARTY: ‘Super 6’ would solve hurling famine-or-feast conundrum

Tipperary's Noel McGrath consoled by a young fan after the loss to Clare in Semple Stadium

With emotions running high, Tipperary manager Michael Ryan could be excused for the odd oversight following Sunday’s Championship exit. He claimed he saw no fatigue among his men, though players were starting to break down towards the end, some being treated for cramp and one or two others hobbling. After 21 tumultuous days, it was his players’ bodies that eventually gave in.

Ryan wasn’t citing the county’s decision to play three or four competitive club games in April as part of the reasoning for their downfall, though he did mention it.

“It’s too big of an ask,” he said. Consider that fellow doomed side Waterford also played off two rounds in each of their senior codes during that month and their and Tipperary’s four games on four consecutive Sundays doesn’t appear to be their only debilitating factor.

Clare’s decision to postpone their championships until such time as the senior county teams cease to be involved in the All-Ireland inter-county competitions looks a savvy decision now, but there was good fortune for Clare also in having their four-game schedule broken up by a timely two-week break.

Others weren’t so lucky, among them Tipperary.

I don’t think it’s perfect, that some teams get a break and some don’t,” said Ryan. “I know that they are going to alter that next year, but that’s not the solution, in my opinion. How do you get it right with five teams? You need another team to fix that so that everybody could get a break.

After a Special Congress was staged last year, there isn’t the appetite for another to alter this experimental championship format — GAA president John Horan made that clear yesterday. Despite calls to save Offaly, they will be left to their own devices in the Joe McDonagh Cup.

GAA president John Horan
GAA president John Horan

However, it won’t take a rule change to amend the scheduling of the competition so that counties are all afforded breaks during their provincial campaigns.

Where do the Central Competitions Control Committee find the space? Well, if counties had listened to the previous CCCC in the first place and jettisoned Division 1 quarter-finals it would have freed up a weekend. The league programme is as tight as a drum, so that’s likely to be the only saving made there.

The CCCC and Leinster might accept that a three-week break between their final round and the final is one week too much, when it could be put to good use during the round robin.

Offaly and Wexford would have been glad of the breather as would Tipperary and Waterford.

The GAA might benefit from providing an extended gap in the middle of their provincial hurling championships for club activity, as Kilkenny have been crying out for. This would also give championship football a window for promotion at a time of year when hurling is ruling the roost.

A slightly later finish for hurling provinces wouldn’t be such a bad thing, when there are just 11 senior hurling championship matches left this summer.

Also, wouldn’t it make more sense for four of the Liam MacCarthy Cup sides to be playing up to the end of June or start of July when the two Joe McDonagh Cup finalists Carlow and Westmeath are guaranteed two more games and will be hurling until July 7 or July 8?

The GAA know this structure isn’t the finished article. It was and will be again regarded as a knee-jerk reaction to football’s Super 8, even though there were calls from the GPA and a number of advisory hurling bodies for more hurling championship action.

As much as a scheduling alteration would help, it’s window-dressing when there is a fairer and far more exciting option worth considering: Hurling’s own version of the Super 8, only two fewer teams.

Michael Ryan in the closing stages of the loss to Clare
Michael Ryan in the closing stages of the loss to Clare

 

In a nutshell, return to the previous provincial structures, play the competitions over a maximum of six weekends to allow club activity in between, reintroduce qualifier games for beaten teams up to the provincial finals, and increase the number of Liam MacCarthy Cup teams to 12.

The provincial finalists would qualify for the Super 6s, put into two separate groups of three, where they would be joined by the two teams who come through the qualifiers. One home and away game for each team. Finished over four weekends and, with the chance for dead rubbers slim to none, the top two in each group would progress to the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Not only would it solve the obvious disparity in competitiveness between the Munster and Leinster championships but there would be more cross-provincial matches and teams facing into the Super 6s would at least have a running start compared to now.

What’s more, it would take roughly 15 weeks, including breaks, to be played off, the same timeframe as this year.

It’s food for thought, as almost half of the Liam MacCarthy Cup competitors go inter-county hungry for seven months.

Can Sky be believed to be better?

Saturday’s statement from Sky Sports acknowledging the disappointment of viewers who had to wait almost a third of the way into Kilkenny-Wexford to see the advertised live game shouldn’t be treated lightly.

We appreciate the frustration felt by fans today and we will be taking all necessary steps going forward to ensure that broadcasting clashes, like the one that happened today, does not occur again,” they insisted.

Given the considerably negative social media reaction to the decision to stick with Meath and Tyrone, it was a necessary intervention from the broadcasters.

Remember, it was Sky’s decision last month to make the late change to their broadcast schedule from the Dublin-Galway hurling game, which had the same 7pm throw-in as Nowlan Park, to the Meath- Tyrone qualifier.

Did they intend going about showing two matches at the same time when, for the sake of fairness, both had been scheduled to start simultaneously?

Sky Sports viewers missed the start of te Kilkenny v Wexford clash as the SFC qualifier went to extra time
Sky Sports viewers missed the start of te Kilkenny v Wexford clash as the SFC qualifier went to extra time

How Sky will ensure such situations don’t happen again will be interesting. They are set to show a pair of third- and fourth-round All-Ireland qualifiers on June 30 and July 7 and while the latter two matches could be played in Croke Park, therefore back-to-back, home advantage applies to the third- round matches, meaning different venues.

The two games are down for 5pm and 7pm starts. A 4pm throw-in for the first match would give them some leeway, but then qualifiers must be decided on the day and their duration is potentially indefinite.

Incentivise good game officiating

Through tears of rage, beaten Meath manager, Andy McEntee, delivered a stinging assessment of football refereeing, following Saturday’s championship exit at the hands of Tyrone. “This affects everybody. I’ve a family, all the management team have a family, all the players have families, wives, girlfriends, there’s one or two kids in there. So everybody gets affected by this.

“There’s too much time, there’s too much money. Everybody talks about the amount of money that’s spent training teams. This isn’t Mickey Mouse stuff any more.”

Whatever about McEntee’s contentions regarding Paddy Neilan’s control of their game, there is enough reason, after this past weekend and recent weeks, to believe more can be done financially to aid the country’s leading referees and their umpires. Here are five incentives:

1. Give referees and linesmen the same mileage as players. Right now, they pick up 50 cent per mile, compared to the players, who, as part of the GPA-GAA deal signed in 2016, receive between 62.5c and 65c per mile. Referees are often carpooling, bringing their four umpires with them, resulting in their mileage rate being less favourable.

2. As Irish Examiner columnist, Brian Gavin, has suggested, give the referees a voice. If they are prevented from publicly speaking about decisions, let somebody do it for them.

3. Provide umpires with more than just meals for their efforts. They shouldn’t be relying on the good graces of the referee to ensure their involvement on match-day.

4. Place an age limit, similar to the cap of 50 years on inter-county referees, on umpires. As a means of assisting vision, ensure caps are worn at all times.

5. Improve umpire training, paying particular attention to the positioning they should take for set-pieces.

 

- john.fogarty@examiner.ie

 

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