Tuesday 20 August 2019

Leagues lack teeth when placings are not of real concern

On The Line with Alan Aherne

The All-County Leagues are now up and running in both codes, with zero fanfare surrounding the opening rounds as no club worth its salt gets overly-excited about these secondary competitions.

That is especially true in Wexford since, because of the system currently in operation, there is no real incentive to do well. In actual fact, the league encounters are no more than glorified practice games which do serve the purpose of saving mentors the bother of trying to arrange some meaningful action before the championship.

For the uninitiated, I should explain the structure which means that the key matters in any league of substance, namely promotion and relegation, don't come into play at all.

We must be one of the few counties in the country to determine league standings by championship contestants. Take Division 1 of the All-County Hurling League as a starting point.

The twelve contenders are the same twelve teams lining up for the Pettitt's Senior hurling championship. After the draw for the Dr. Bob Bowe Cup preliminaries were made and each side learned the identity of its five opponents, it was decreed that they would meet the other six in the league.

This system continues down through the divisions in both codes, but what it means is that last year's final league positions don't matter at all. A Senior team could have lost all six league games in 2014, but once they preserved their status in the championship they will still be in Division 1 for 2015.

Fethard have thrown a slight spanner in the works by their interesting decision not to contest the domestic leagues, apparently because the vast majority of their very young panel members are spread all over the country in various colleges.

Therefore, they feel it would be more beneficial for them as a club to pick and choose when to play challenge games instead, at times when they are sure of having a decent pick.

Their reasoning is perfectly understandable and they have to do what is best for their own charges naturally enough. However, the very fact that one of the most progressive young clubs in the county isn't in the All-County Leagues says a lot about the prestige or otherwise of the competition.

As a result of Fethard's absence, some of the teams relegated in the championship last year have all been pushed up by one division to maintain even numbers. The big beneficiaries it would seem to date are the Kilanerin Intermediate footballers who lost their status somewhat unexpectedly in 2014 after lighting up the Senior grade over a 22-year period.

They expected to be in Division 2 along with the other Intermediate sides, but instead they are in the top flight and have opened very brightly, hammering St. James' by 1-17 to 0-1 and comfortably seeing off Horeswood also by 2-11 to 0-7.

I would take every league result with a pinch of salt, given the absence of inter-county players and the like, but it's still a clear sign that the Wicklow border men are determined to bounce back as fast as possible.

I should mention too that the absence of league relegation is one of the major plus factors for a club with a lot of players tied up with Wexford teams, as their season won't rise or fall on the basis of matches played without their big guns. Instead, once they stay afloat in the championship they know they won't be dropping down in the league any time soon, and they'll have their main men for that.

Liam Dunne is to be commended for allowing players not on his first 15 to line out with their clubs last weekend, even if he had to make a quick phone call to halt Eoin Conroy's involvement with Naomh Eanna when it emerged that the Gorey defender would be starting in Portlaoise due to other defections. It's a pity Dunne's stance is the exception rather than the norm.

Finally, just to underline the complete lack of status of the leagues, how many of you can recall the outcome of last year's Division 1 finals? Some of you might remember quickly enough, but could any reader rattle off the last five winners in either or both codes?

I reckon that even Tony Doran and his fellow quiz buffs would struggle with that!

Wexford People

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