The hurling league has shown how tight it could get this summer

The hurling league has shown how tight it could get this summer
Paddy Smyth of Dublin in action against Martin Keoghan of Kilkenny. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

THE last day of the Division 1A hurling league has been pretty consistent over the last years, in that the primary consistency has been the absolute uncertainty.

That unpredictability peaked in 2013 when all six teams went into the last day with the prospect of a quarter-final, or a relegation final, hanging over them. 

The two teams which ultimately ended up at the bottom, and in the relegation final - Cork and Clare - ended up in that year's All-Ireland final.

The drama of the final regular round in 1A hasn't been as dramatic since but each season still contains strains of that high-wire stuff. Before the final round was completed in March, calculators were at the ready to tot up the permutations.

A Tipperary win or draw against Cork would have plunged Cork into a relegation final against Waterford (which is what happened). 

If Waterford and Kilkenny ended up on four points, Kilkenny would have prevailed on the head-to-head.

A Cork win would have changed the complexion of the division. If they and Kilkenny had won, Tipperary would have been forced to take on Waterford. 

Wins for Cork, Wexford and Clare would have seen Cork, Tipperary and Kilkenny all level on four points to bring scoring difference into the equation. Victories for Cork, Wexford and Waterford would have produced totally different permutations.

Relegation was still a possibility for Kilkenny but they ended the afternoon top of the group as the top four were decided by score difference.

Shortly after Tipperary defeated Cork on the same afternoon, Michael Ryan spoke about the craziness of it all.

"Isn't that the beauty of Division 1A, anybody can beat anybody," he said. 

"It was alive today for everybody."

With every team capable of beating everybody in the new Round Robin Munster championship Clare joint-manager Gerry O'Connor said recently that - similar to Division 1A - he expects the top three places in Munster to be decided either by score difference or head-to-head.

"Why would we think that it's going to be straightforward in the Munster championship," asked O'Connor "when it wasn't in the National League?"

The manic competitiveness of Munster means that it is highly probable that any combination of Clare, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford could finish on the same points. 

In that context, a couple of those teams' championship could be decided on the head-to-head result (to separate two teams on equal points) or score difference (in the event of three teams or more finishing on equal points).

It certainly could make it an anxious last weekend for Tipperary (their free weekend on June 17th), as the other four teams battle it out. 

It's unlikely, but possible, that Tipperary could - as the digits go up and down - excruciatingly watch themselves exit the Munster championship from their armchairs.

Can you imagine the uproar if that happens? Picture the consternation in Leinster if one team is eliminated from the 2018 Leinster championship on scoring difference?

Ben Conneely of Offaly marking Conor Whelan. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Ben Conneely of Offaly marking Conor Whelan. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

At the outset of this decade, the argument was first made that Gaelic Games would benefit from adopting the bonus-points system used in rugby. 

They are based on an awards system of four points for a win, two for a draw and bonus points for scoring four or more tries or losing by seven points or less. 

Translated into Gaelic games, Feargal McGill, then Croke Park's head of games, suggested in 2011 that equivalent bonuses could be one point for scoring at least two goals and one for losing by a margin of six points or under.

The advantages of any such system was that it would encourage more attacking play and, in particular, more goals. 

It would also reward teams who remain competitive all the way through a match, which obviously has greater spectator appeal than heavily one-sided encounters.

The argument of bonus points was topical at the time because the 2010 league campaigns ended with the league finalists in both football and hurling already decided by the last weekend. 

Part of the reason was some teams were in an impossible position trailing the team above them by two points but having already lost to them earlier in the season. 

A bonus points system, however, would have created huge possibilities for teams in such a position.

Seven years on though, the bonus points system has become topical again, especially for the new Round Robin hurling championship, and Super 8s in football. 

In his Irish Mail on Sunday column recently, Michael Duignan suggested the system, and how he would implement it; four points for a win, two points for a draw, and one bonus point for three goals or more. 

Fergal Whitely of Dublin scores his side's second goal against Kilkenny. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Fergal Whitely of Dublin scores his side's second goal against Kilkenny. Picture: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

It would encourage more attacking play, and the pursuit of more goals, but it would certainly remove a lot of the risk of teams being eliminated on points different under the current system. 

After such a devastating defeat to Kilkenny last Sunday, think of the boost Dublin would have got from a bonus point after scoring three goals?

In a follow up column the following Sunday after outlining his proposals, Duignan even went a step further. 

"There is still that desire to see goals," he wrote. 

"And a losing bonus point, also like rugby, is worth considering for a team within seven points at the final whistle. 

"It means that there is still an incentive for a team that is trailing by nine or ten points. 

"Rather than boiling down to score difference, I think the bonus point model is fairer and more exciting."

It may sound radical but there are a lot of merits in Duignan's argument. 

And especially if the calculators are required at the end of the Round Robin, and Super 8s.

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