Comfortably numb

It’s early days in Division 1B of the 2015 National Hurling League . . . that’s not true, is it? The shape of the division already looks set with Waterford, Limerick and Wexford making the running for promotion. This is probably what would have been expected at the start of the campaign so 0/10 for originality. Of the three teams, we are the team that probably have most to be pleased about. We’re the ones who are saddled most heavily with the dreaded moniker of being ‘in transition’, a phrase which should mean that we are going from one state to another, in our case that of being good to being bad, yet is invariably bandied around to mean you are going from a position of being good to an indeterminate future.  So to find ourselves with an away draw against the team considered most likely to sweep all before them and the only thumping win out of the six games played so far, we have much to be pleased about.

(I have no idea whether points difference counts this year. In the event of a tie on points, will it be head-to-head that counts? Points average? Playoffs? The answer is probably out there somewhere, but I don’t have the energy to look.)

All very predictable, and surely a black mark against the much-maligned setup of the National League where one defeat practically ends any hope of promotion. Yet I find myself warming to the setup. Admittedly that might be shaped by the fact that we are in with a decent shout of a quick return to the top table, but I think I can make a decent argument for the idea that this format ticks more boxes for what we want from a spring competition than any of the other suggestions. By only having a handful of games, each of them is more important. Lose one and you have to win the remaining games to have any chance of getting promoted. Lose two and you are in danger of being sucked into a relegation battle. Even if after three of four games you find yourself with no chance of finishing first or fifth/sixth, there is still jockeying to be had to ensure you avoid the teams in the best form in Division 1A. Most importantly, no game is going to be a certain blowout. Sure, Waterford did it to Laois, but we always beat Laois – this was our tenth win in a row against them in the League dating back to 1984 – and that has been the only game so far in Division 1B which has ended up like that. Can you imagine if Laois now had to face high-flying Dublin or wounded Kilkenny? Heck, imagine if we now had to face high-flying Dublin or wounded Kilkenny? I was feeling pretty good after the opening three games last year only to run straight into a couple of awful beatings at the hands of Clare and Kilkenny. It didn’t do us any good and it certainly wouldn’t do any good for a newish outfit in an eight-team Division 1 or two six-team divisions of equal strength.

It has its weaknesses. Only having two home games for half the teams is not ideal, both from the point of view of giving everyone an equal chance on the field and maximising revenue. The divisions are in danger of getting calcified, with Laois, Offaly and Antrim not being able to look forward to clashes with the biggest counties any time soon. But overall it seems to be working well. Now an honest naming of the divisions – let’s stop fooling ourselves that they are both worthy of the number 1 – and we might have something with a chance of lasting more than a few years.

You can look forward to the same column being recycled this time next year.

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