JOHN FOGARTY: The Fogarty Forum: Spate of hamstring injuries expose flaws in hurling league make-up

Whoever said you can’t get too much of a good thing hasn’t spoken to the hurlers who have picked up hamstring injuries these last couple of weeks.

This past weekend, Cork’s Alan Cadogan, Mark Ellis and Daniel Kearney all retired from the Tipperary game with the same injury.

In Kilkenny, Davy Fitzgerald lost the services of Conor McGrath and Colm Galvin towards the end of the game as did Brian Cody with Jackie Tyrrell.

Last week, it was Galway’s Padraic Brehony and Waterford’s Austin Gleeson.

As all 12 Division 1 teams face into a fourth game in as many weeks this weekend, there is a strong possibility we will see more victims.

The Fitzgibbon Cup hasn’t helped either. Occupational hazards, you might say. Sure aren’t players always saying they want more games? That is true but when so many games are coming thick and fast over such a short period the hamstring threat is obvious.

It is one considerable drawback of this current structure especially as there appears to be ample time in which to delay the final round by a week.

After next weekend’s quarter-finals, there is a three-week gap to the semi-finals. It’s like the league is running to stand still.

Also, when the season is so front-loaded — remember, the majority of counties have played at least half of their competitive games for the year — doesn’t it make sense that they are afforded the opportunity to play them in a considered fashion instead of running the risk of picking up injuries?

The counter-argument is this format and schedule has proven to be successful financially. Attendances are up and last year gate receipts jumped by 76% from just over €900,000 in 2013 to €1.6 million.

GAA director of games development Pat Daly told this newspaper last month that the added competitiveness especially in Division 1A has been a contributory factor to better All-Ireland championships.

On one hand, it lends to the better promotion of the game and yet on the other it doesn’t.

Because of a draw and a coin toss, it’s quite possible Clare have already played their last game in Cusack Park this year.

Their supporters have been afforded just two opportunities to see them on their own patch.

Then there’s the equally salient fact that Kilkenny won’t be in action for another 12 weeks after their relegation play-off against Clare.

That’s right: for the months of April and May and just over two-thirds of June the All-Ireland champions won’t be seen. That has as much to do with their bye as last year’s Leinster winners into a provincial semi-final but their presence in the relegation battle is to blame too.

Their own fault for losing three games, you could say, yet Kilkenny have never favoured the format.

Thankfully, the structure of the leagues is up for review at the end of next year’s running. The quarter-finals, introduced as a means of appeasing counties who were concerned about having just two home games, haven’t been a success so far. The winning/losing margin in the four matches last year was almost seven points and but for the experimentation of Division 1A teams, all who won, would have been more.

There are grounds to suggest this year’s set of games will be more competitive but Tipperary v Offaly has all the hallmarks of being a one-sided affair unless Eamon O’Shea chooses to give some of his fringe players an opportunity to start. It’s not just because it’s the last two All-Ireland champions pitted against one another in the relegation play-off that makes it more attractive than all of the quarter-finals: it’s because the potential for a better game is greater than any of the other four.

We’re not exactly sure that the integrity of the competition is served best when there’s more interest in a game where there’s more to lose than in those where there should be more to gain but the same could be said for the Dublin-Waterford relegation clash last year, which also trumped the quarter-finals for appeal.

Linking Division 1B with Division 1A in such a way has been nothing more than a crutch. Although the differences in class between the top three in the second tier with the top flight are smaller than they were a couple of years ago, supporters are intelligent enough to distinguish between the searing environment of a group like Division 1A and the lukewarm waters of the quarter-finals.

The GAA can point to the increased attendance figures but Division 1A counted for so much of that. Plus, when fans are afforded less opportunities to take in their teams at home the chances are they will do their damndest not to miss them.

If the numbers have demonstrated anything it’s that there is more appetite for hurling. Limerick mightn’t have helped themselves in 2010 when players went on strike and were relegated but they have since gained promotion only to be denied it by a reshuffle and then had an illegal player lead Dublin to a victory over them in a promotion final.

They would hardly sully the top division were they added. The same with Wexford. It would mean more games but they could be facilitated by getting rid of the quarter-finals and still there would be space for a couple of break weekends. Both the players and public would have different reasons to be thankful.

Where have all the Laois and Offaly fans gone?

If there were booby prizes given out for stay-away supporters, Laois and Offaly would be contending for top honours.

It’s been some time since O’Moore Park felt like a home audibly for the footballers while the absenteeism in O’Connor Park for Division 4 leaders Offaly’s matches has been noted by county officials.

Waterford’s hurlers haven’t exactly been cheered on as they performed off-Broadway this spring. After the cull of seasoned players before Christmas, 2015 was written off as one mired in transition. The attendances at their first home game against Laois was dismal while doubling up with the footballers for the Antrim game didn’t help much either with just 1,558 turning up.

Understandably, Déise fans have been used to facing more appealing opposition but there has been almost a shunning of this team.

It hasn’t helped either manager Derek McGrath has come under pressure from quarters in the county which should be backing him.

Combine all those factors and it makes Waterford’s swift return to top flight hurling an even more impressive feat.

Regardless of what happens in their quarter-final against Galway next weekend, there should be an outpouring of appreciation in Walsh Park as Waterford’s followers compensate for lost time.

Gulf between top divisions is huge

The fact seven of the eight teams in Division 2 are still in with a chance of promotion with two games to go shouldn’t be mistaken for competitiveness. Down may be standout candidates but, on present form, would they survive in Division 1? The gulf between Division 1 and 2 is considerable now Armagh, who are about to top Division 3, appear a more credible addition to Division 1.

Should Down beat Meath in Newry on Saturday, they will be promoted and what a fillip it would be for Jim McCorry. But do they have the depth to cope with the jump? Do Roscommon who look the best placed to go up with them? In lower hurling divisions, table-toppers have to prove they are worthy of promotion by beating the county who finish last in the league above them. It mightn’t be such a bad idea in Division 2.



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