Galway were relegated to the second tier after losing last Sunday’s relegation play-off in Pearse Stadium against Cork who had failed to win any of their five round games. Galway, on the other hand, had lost just two of their regulation matches while beating Cork in the first round and drawing with Tipperary and Waterford.
Ó Fearghail accepts there are glitches in the current system but insists there would be problems in any alternative make-up to the competition.
“I think whatever format you’re going to get, you’re going to have anomalies arising. You’re going to have some counties that will quite justifiably say there’s something a little bit unfair. But when you look at the overall of it, the fairness of the league is that the best teams at all division levels still come to the top. That has what the league has been creating” Echoing previous claims by GAA director of games development Pat Daly, Ó Fearghail claims hurling has never been as competitive and believes the current structure has played a role.
“I think it’s also fair to put it into context – hurling has never been at the level it’s at. I wouldn’t argue that the league is the only reason for that but I would argue that the league, in its current format, has been part of that.
“But look, every single system we have, we’ll always find certain issues that are probably a bit difficult. But I think the current league, as is set at the moment, that’s the way Central Council has determined it to be. Overall, for most counties, it’s serving them well.” Despite the reservations of the vast majority of Liam MacCarthy Cup hurling counties, Central Council with the backing of the Central Competitions Control Committee last year chose to stick with the current six-team divisional format with the addition of quarter-finals between the top four teams in Division 1A and 1B. Those games were introduced in 2014 after Cork were relegated from the top flight.
On Sunday, Kilkenny hammered Offaly by 24 points in Nowlan Park. In the eight quarter-finals between the top two counties in Division 1A and third and fourth placed teams in Division 1B since 2014, the Division 1A sides have won on each occasion. The total difference in those matches between the division’s sides now stands at 51 points, a winning/losing average of over eight points per game.
Ó Fearghail said landslide results like Sunday’s one in Kilkenny shouldn’t be used as a stick to beat the current league format. “As a general point, there is always going to be situations where our top teams will play a team from a lower division or a lower grade. And there will be a large scoring difference. That is something that is just going to happen.
“I don’t think when it happens once like that in a game like that that it causes the whole league to be changed. As the championship throws-in in a few months time, we’re going to see the same thing – I have no doubt – with some of our best football teams meeting maybe a weaker one.
“There will be a large scoring difference and there will be some calling for the championship to be completely changed. I don’t believe that one game and one result should overall change how the league is run.”
GAA director general Páraic Duffy pointed out the criteria of the league in both codes works both for and against teams. Citing his native Monaghan whose footballers along with Mayo retained the Division 1 status ahead of Cork on score difference, he said: “For some who are affected, there are others who are affected positively.”
Meanwhile, Duffy shot down reports of unusual betting prior to the Division 2A hurling game between London and Antrim in Ruislip last month. The Antrim Post newspaper carried a story in which claims were made that the match had been fixed. London beat Antrim 1-21 to 1-19.
“As far as I’m aware, there is no substance to it. Anyone can make an allegation. Is there any evidence?”