John Horgan on hurling: Kilkenny and Limerick might entertain but league has lost its appeal

Páirc Uí Chaoimh hosts an attractive clash on Sunday that is really only a warm-up for the real action over the coming weeks
John Horgan on hurling: Kilkenny and Limerick might entertain but league has lost its appeal

Tommy Walsh of Kilkenny gives Alex Considine of Dublin a hand with cramp. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

THE curtain fell on the National Football League season last weekend and it will come down on the hurling campaign next Sunday afernoon with Limerick and Kilkenny vying for the Dr Croke trophy.

Mayo took the Division 1 football trophy back to their county last Sunday after their fine win over Galway. National titles have not been easy to come by in Mayo and when it comes to pass it should be a cause for some celebration.

Winning the league is pittance compared to lifting the Sam Maguire Cup later on in the year which they just cannot seem to do but it is a fine achievement nonetheless.

However, the likelihood is that once whatever small celebration took place in the Mayo dressing room afterward, the trophy probably quickly disappeared from view and the players went on their way. The reason why, Mayo have a huge championship encounter with Roscommon next Sunday to focus on and that has to be their only priority this week.

It will probably be a similar story in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday and whether it's Limerick or Kilkenny collecting the silverware, neither will be getting carried away.

Given the close proximity of the championship to the end of the league that's the way it has become, a league title is very quickly forgotten about now. In fact, if the championship does not go well for a team that wins the league, the latter is but a footnote at the conclusion of the season.

Everything is changed now, the league has fallen off the list of the season's priorities, so much so that some counties haven't the slightest bit of interest in winning it and are quite satisfied to go through the motions of completing their programme without getting sucked into a relegation battle. Even being relegated from one division to another does not seem to cause too much grief.

The condensed season decrees that nothing else matters anymore but the championship, all the more so in where hurling is concerned.


The format of the hurling championship puts huge pressure on all the competing teams now, playing four games in Munster and five in Leinster in a very short space of time is the reason for that. The group stage in Munster and Leinster has been a resounding success and that will continue long into the future and it should.

The margin for error in both provinces is minimal with just three teams going on to have an extended summer and the rest having it terminated very early as was the case with Tipperary and Waterford last season. Everything goes into the championship basket now and the league has become a distant second-best.

Limerick's Declan Hannon and Lee Chin of Wexford battling recently. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
Limerick's Declan Hannon and Lee Chin of Wexford battling recently. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Numerous ways to heighten the status of the hurling league have been discussed recently in various media outlets and in some of the more popular podcasts.

One of them was rewarding the league winners with a place in the All-Ireland quarter-final which would surely create greater intensity in the competition.

Because let's be honest, for the most part, this season's hurling league has been underwhelming. The intensity levels never reached any great heights in quiet a few games, some resembled a glorified challenge game, the play far too open and too many one-sided encounters.

So back to the idea of giving the winners a place in the latter stage of the championship. That's not really a solution surely to making the league a more attractive prospect, is it?

If that was to happen, a county could win the league and subsequently lose its four games in the championship but still contend for the All-Ireland. Let's put it like this, Tipperary lost their four championship games in Munster last season but if they had won the league they'd have ended up in the championship last eight.

So, how do you improve matters where the hurling league is concerned?

Writing in last Saturday's Independent, former Waterford star, John Mullane wrote that he'd scrap the pre-season competitions and start the national league earlier, then push the championship back to early May and the All-Ireland final back to the first weekend in August, still accounting for club players, given that many counties don't start until then anyway.

He would have the league final in early April giving counties a four-week run-in to the championship. An incentive of a foreign trip for the winners should also be considered, he stated.

There's definitely some food for thought with his comments because whatever transpires, the hurling league needs something to invigorate it.

For the moment, though, it's all about the big day in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Sunday and there is a strong perception that we could be in for grand finale to a competition that has not really ignited up to now.

When Kilkenny get into any type of a final they spare nothing in trying to win it and with competition for places now so intense on the Limerick starting 15, they won't be holding back either. They have a big championship encounter a fortnight later against Waterford and that might be a factor in other counties if they were involved on Sunday.

Cork manager Pat Ryan and Kilkenny manager Derek Lyng. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Cork manager Pat Ryan and Kilkenny manager Derek Lyng. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

However, it's hard to see this crop of Limerick hurlers holding back anything in their endeavours to land another trophy and illustrate again what a special team they are.

And to conclude the hurling league discussion for now, it's great to see Offaly heading back towards the big time again after their Division 2A win over Kildare last Sunday.

It wasn't a hundred years ago that we all marvelled at the exploits of the Faithful County on the national stage.

Recent times have not been kind to them and their disappearance from that big stage was alarming. Offaly produced some wonderful hurlers in their glory days of the '80s and '90s and the current bunch have now taken the first steps on the road back.

And their minors were desperately unlucky not to have won the minor All-Ireland last season. It is still going to be a long road ahead but, at least, a start has been made.

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