Tuesday, June 07, 2016
One of the reasons that the hurling Championship has proved so difficult to reform is the strange place of the Munster Championship. One of the major arguments against proper reform of the hurling Championship is the “special place” that the Munster Championship holds in the Irish sports calendar. This is despite the fact that it’s now been ten years and counting since the Munster Champions went on to win the All-Ireland. There’s something wrong there somewhere.
What’s far worse is the peculiar situation of not knowing where a team stands after it wins or loses a game. In terms of positioning to win the All-Ireland, are Clare really any worse off since Waterford beat them on Sunday? Can anybody keep track of the losers of the Provincial championships? There are many back doors in hurling’s mansion, to the extent of its being a damnable job to keep track of who’s who until the semi-finals arrive in August. That doesn’t make for much of a Championship.
The paucity of counties that are able to compete for the Liam McCarthy Cup doesn’t help. We’re seeing greater and greater separation in football, but hurling has always been a game of haves and have-nots. Limerick, Clare, Waterford, Wexford, Offaly and Galway are all considered hurling counties despite not having more than thirty All-Irelands between them in over 125 years of trying.
One of the arguments for the retention of traditional football championship is the importance of the local rivalry. There aren’t enough teams playing hurling at the same level to have that rivalry. As such, in an effort to generate gate receipts and put some sort of gloss of competitiveness on the Championship, the vast majority of hurling counties are put through this out again, in again Lanigan’s Ball of a Championship before Kilkenny or Tipperary come along and box their ears for them, just like always.
Whatever slim chance (and slimmer it’s getting) there is of bringing back the old football Championship, there isn’t a snowball’s of the old hurling Championship returning. There just wouldn’t be enough games. But the current format is maddening, because teams are no further nor closer to the All-Ireland on the 31st of July than they were at Christmas.
So here’s the suggestion. We need more games, and we also need more clarity about who’s in the hunt and who’s a gone goose. So continue with the straight-knockout Championship but play each fixture as a best-of-three or best-of-five series.
The precedent is in American sports, where playoffs in baseball, ice hockey and basketball are all best-of series.
Under this sort of system, last Sunday would have been the first leg of a best-of-three between Clare and Waterford. If Waterford win again this coming Sunday, they move on and Clare are gone. If not, it’s mega-showdown for Game 3 in sunny Thurles in a fortnight. Good times.
The American sports play best-of-sevens, but they play three games a week. Midweek games would be just a little too jarring for the rhythm of the Championship and the summer isn’t long enough for best-of-fives played at the weekend only. As such best-of-three is certainly a good place to start.
If we had a best-of-series now, Game 2 next week between Clare and Waterford suddenly becomes huge, instead of Clare treading water and lesser counties into the ground for the next six weeks, and Waterford suffering long dark nights of the soul trying to decide if they really want another Munster title for all the good the other ones have done them in recent years.
Everybody thinks the Championship needs fireworks. Making the hurling Championship into best-of-threes with no backdoor would certainly strike a few sparks.