By Martha Brennan
2018’s senior hurling championship was a source of anxiety for both players and fans as the summer approached. The roll – out of the new structure was highly anticipated and the round-robin format was criticized as soon as the vote went through last autumn.
But even with all the talk leading up to the championship, no – one was prepared for the level of hurling that Ireland saw this year. It will be a season talked about for years to come, with enthralling clashes that will go down in GAA history as some of the best in recent times.
The game dominated the Irish sporting consciousness all summer, despite fears that the elimination of sudden death would curtail attendance levels at matches. This was especially true of the provincial championships, where home games proved a lot more electric than games held in neutral arenas. The condensed schedule offered more hurling at a faster pace which the fans, and most of the players, are always asking for.
However, the new system is still far from perfect. One stand – out flaw is the intense schedule with four teams playing four matches in just 21 days. Of the 12 games where a county was playing on their third or fourth consecutive weekend, only on one occasion were those teams victorious.
It became clear as the season went on that certain panels were suffering, particularly during fatigued second halves of matches where larger panels had the advantage. A prime example of this was evident in the Cork and Limerick semi-final where the Rebels lost their momentum toward the end of the game and could barely keep moving during the extra time.
Many critics think that for next year replays should be introduced into the semi-finals, instead of so much extra time. President of the GAA John Horan has stated that they will look into addressing this for next year.
The scheduling of the Leinster and Munster finals on the same day will also need to be addressed if the GAA want to keep fans happy.
Relegation has also been a highly discussed issue in reviews of the new structure, and it’s hard to argue against the fact that it is skewed in the Munster counties’ favour. Offaly, who played four games in a row, have been relegated because they finished last in Leinster, yet Waterford were bottom of the pile in Munster and were immune from the same fate.
One of the highest points of contention this year, besides relegation and an intense schedule, has been fixture problems between club and county games. There are talks of plans to introduce a policy which would free up inter – county players to play with their clubs more often, and to try to bring back the importance of club games into players consciousness. With few big club games played in April, the day where there are two different seasons – a club season and a county season – is hastening.
Along with these plans, there are also intentions to address the growing threat of creeping professionalism in the sport, with more and more players being given sponsorship deals and certain perks. This will be particularly interesting to keep an eye on, and to see how the Association plans to identify what is and isn’t acceptable within the amateur code.
However even with these few kinks, there is no denying that 2018 was a year of hurling to remember: fans are already holding on to their seats in anticipation of what is to come next year.
Photo credit: Chris Sloan on Flickr