I’d love to have been a fly on the wall a few years back when the Munster Council decided on the current system for the Minor hurling championship. The principle would have been that each county should get two games, but with six counties involved the challenge would have been to ensure that, after all the games leading up to the semi-final had been played, you wouldn’t have two teams who played each other in the ‘quarter-final’ meeting up again in the semi-final. I haven’t exhaustively looked at the permutations, but it doesn’t look possible to me, and you’d like to think that those looking at it did so thoroughly before concluding that it wasn’t possible and saying “feck it, alea jacta est!” Okay, maybe I wouldn’t want to be a fly on the wall, for fear of having my illusions ruined about the usage of classical quotations by members of the Munster Council.
The thing is, I like the system. The principle of ensuring each county gets two games is a sound one, even for Kerry. Yes, it’s hard to see them making it through but they’re clearly doing something right in the Kingdom if their Senior teams efforts in the League are anything to go by, beating Carlow twice on their way to the Division 1B/2A playoff against Offaly (it’s a scandal that they have to go through another playoff to get promoted, but that’s for another day), and they’re not going to improve if they shirk games against the best at Minor level. However, the issue with the possibility of teams playing their next game in the championship against the team they just defeated is a problem, compounded by the arcane manner in which the Munster Council treats home and away decisions.
Consider this scenario. Tipperary and Limerick were playing each other after the other two games in this year’s Minor championship, so each county knew who they would meet in the next round, whether that be in the semi-final or in the loser’s round. With Waterford beating Clare, they would have known that the winner would play Cork and the loser would play the winner of the Clare v Kerry game. Given the Munster Council’s rigid adherence to rotating home and away advantage – the same rules that mean Waterford will next play Limerick as the away team, because the drawn Munster final in Limerick last year in front of tens of thousands of Shannonsiders was treated as a neutral venue – it is not inconceivable that one of the counties might calculate that a win would leave them playing Cork away, while a defeat would see them play Clare/Kerry and Waterford at home. No doubt the purists would recoil at such suggestions of chicanery and say that no Munster team is ever going to go out and deliberately lose, and this would be fair comment – when it comes to bitter rivals, everyone is. However, you find yourself seven points down with ten minutes to go . . . it ain’t the end of the world if you have to win two home games rather than bust a gut to get the ‘honour’ of playing Cork in their own back yard, is it?
Even if you don’t believe a team would ever put in less than 100% effort in a championship game, there’s the issue of fairness. As it happens, ceteris paribus – those Munster Council boyos aren’t the only ones who can talk real purdy – Waterford have a 2:1 chance of getting a home draw in the semi-final. We last played Clare (this year) and Kerry (2006) away and Tipperary (last year) at home. But it doesn’t seem right that we could be at a venue disadvantage in a match against Tipperary despite winning our only game, especially when it’s a problem that is easily resolved. The team that comes out of the losers round of games should always cede home advantage in the semi-final to the team that got there by winning their quarter-final game. This would mean that if Tipperary come through, they have to come to Waterford. It’s a simple, elegant solution to the problem, and as such has no hope of ever becoming the way of things.