The significance of week-on-week action is beginning to tell in earnest, with Waterford, ironically, the clearest example of the dangers inherent in the new system, even though last Sunday was their first outing.
The array of injuries sustained by the white and blue shows how difficult a round-robin system can be. In the old dispensation, a break of two to four weeks was a
godsend for a niggling hamstring or a bruised back.
Not six or seven days, however. Waterford are now on the back foot, with Austin Gleeson, Pauric Mahony, Barry Coughlan, Darragh Fives, Noel Connors, and Tadhg de Burca all in trouble for their next game, against Tipperary in Limerick, with the clock ticking against them.
Cork manager John Meyler articulated the manager’s dilemma perfectly after his side drew with Tipperary last weekend. Asked about Michael Cahalane, Meyler said: “He’s struggling a bit with a hamstring. He’s fully recovered, but I didn’t want to put him in in case he got
injured today, so you’re trying to balance that with the game next Saturday night.”
Thus is the case for every management team as the games go on and on.
Jack Anderson asked this very question before the round-robin began, and Waterford, again, are in the eye of the hurricane as this week goes on.
Are the GAA’s disciplinary structures set up to cope with games every weekend? Waterford now face the classic disciplinary dilemma with Kevin Moran, who was red-carded on Sunday in their game against Clare.
Does manager Derek McGrath go as far as he can and as late as he can this week to get Moran’s red card overturned? Can a player who goes through that kind of uncertainty be ready to play if cleared and, if not, is his replacement fully prepared to line out, knowing there’s a chance he may not be needed?
Offaly are the test case here. They came out flying at Galway in their first game in the Leinster hurling championship and, though they were well beaten in the end by the All-Ireland champions, there were many reasons for Faithful supporters to be optimistic.
They maintained that performance level against Kilkenny the following weekend, but by the time they came up against Wexford last Sunday they were in trouble. They looked tired, their discipline collapsed and they finished the evening with 12 players on the field, getting a trimming on the scoreboard as well.
Though Offaly look primed for relegation, the GAA may have to revisit their structure to safeguard against teams running on fumes when they play a third week in a row, particularly against opponents who are far fresher.
Last year’s Munster hurling championship attracted approximately 127,000 spectators. Attendances have held up pretty well in the province this year, with crowds of 20,000 plus at games in Limerick (Tipperary-Limerick), Cork (Cork-Clare) and Tipperary (Tipperary-Cork).
If those attendances are maintained, let alone exceeded, at Cork-Limerick and Tipperary-Clare, that’s another 40,000. Presuming Clare replicate the Waterford attendance when they host Limerick, that’s another 25,000 paying punters from their two games in Cusack Park; even allowing for Waterford reticence regarding travel to Limerick, their two games on Shannonside are bound to draw an aggregate total of 30,000 spectators, while Waterford-Cork in Thurles, the last game of the round robin, should produce 20,000 spectators.
By our maths that’s a conservative 175,000 spectators without factoring another spike in numbers for the Munster final itself. It means Munster GAA chiefs can expect well over 200,000 spectators at their hurling championship games this summer.