I’ve made my feelings known many times already on the way the league has been structured for the last few years — I didn’t like it.
Five regular-season games isn’t enough and the system they had a few years ago, the top two teams qualifying for the league final and everyone else out of the running, was a disaster.
They changed it last year, brought back the semi-finals, but it still wasn’t enough and only a few teams were eligible to win the league. Now they’re proposing to change it again, Central Council recommending they bring back the league quarter-finals, have 12 teams again in the top division and split it into two groups of six.
This is a big improvement. It brings back the situation where any of the top 12 teams in hurling can win the league and though teams still have only the five round-robin games, you now would have eight sides who qualify for the playoffs.
I like the relegation format also, the bottom two teams in the two Division 1 groups still left with something to play for at the end of the regular rounds.
The system gives more teams an opportunity of winning the league with all the top teams involved in the two sections. It keeps more teams involved for longer and this is what the supporters want, to have an interest right up to the play-off stage.
Does that mean I’m happy with everything? No. Far from it. Looking at the league, I have a few extra suggestions. First of all, while I’m glad to see they’ve brought in home venues for the quarter-finals, I would go a stage further. They should toss for home advantage in the two semi-finals rather than having the neutral venues as proposed. That would bring business to one centre at least and create a better buzz for those semi-finals.
I would also play all those games to a conclusion. Have extra-time, then sudden death if necessary, perhaps using 65s, with a number of different free-takers. Then you’d see fellas having to upgrade their skills.
I would also bring back the overseas trip for the winners, or at least something along those lines. If you increase the reward for winning the league you increase the incentive for the players. And wouldn’t it be great to see New York involved again, to bring that back?
I think the league is gone too dead altogether and this would add a bit of life to it.
There is a downside, however. The loss of another weekend to club action but this could be overcome by having some of the league rounds mid-week — why not?
The GAA has tried a few things over the last few years and most of those have worked — why not do something like this? Mid-week games, perhaps even games on Friday night, but why not try change? In fact, why not try out the yellow card experiment in the league where a player would be replaced if he gets a yellow card?
Another thing they could try is a countdown clock which would take the time out of the hands of the referee and add interest to the game as everyone has eyes on the clock as the time ticks away.
The league is the perfect place for the GAA to experiment and now that they’re on a roll, let them expand those experiments. Referees, for example — why not try a system where officials can be suspended for poor games? Ah wait, this is the GAA isn’t it?
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