There are four certainties in life: death, taxes, overuse of the ‘certainties in life’ gag, and people complaining about the format of the National Hurling League. Davy Fitz and Ciarán Carey both had a pop from their respective ends of Division 1B, the former seeing an expanded top division as a ‘no-brainer’ while the latter was fuming that a team on zero points (Laois) were not automatically relegated.
It’s possible to have sympathy with their respective positions and still think they are both wrong. As I have long argued – okay, argued for just over a year – the system ensures that every game is a battle. An eight-team top division would have multiple dead rubbers while two six-team divisions of equal strength like we had through the turn of the millennium would lead to newly-promoted and upcoming teams like, I don’t know, Kerry getting blown away and end the year newly-relegated and downcoming.
It’s a pain for Limerick that they are stuck in the lower divisions for another year, especially when they ‘won’ Division 1B in 2013 only to lose a playoff against Dublin, and it must have been galling for Kerry to have taken such a scalp only to find out how little it meant in the wider scheme of things thanks to Laois stumbling against Wexford, a stumble that means they get to play Kerry rather than Wexford in the relegation playoff. But there isn’t any format that is going to address all objections. A two-up two-down format, which I would advocate, would help Limerick but would make Kerry worse off as they would be relegated without even a playoff. The inequities in the National League are a symptom of the inequities in the GAA, not the cause.
Those inequities were brought to mind by a stat I saw yesterday from Walsh Park – a crowd of 5,029. Added to the 6,362 at the Dublin game and the 7,000-odd at the Kilkenny game and, quite apart from ticket sales, you have a lot of people buying programmes and junk at the shop (a work colleague who was roped in to helping out at the Dublin game can testify to this being a lot of junk). Compare this to the 1,558 who saw us play Antrim and 1,200 against Laois in 2015 and you can see the value of being in with the heavyweights, The Waterford County Board did get a top-up game against Galway that saw 3,550 extra punters pass through the Walsh Park turnstiles, but they couldn’t have anticipated that game when they approached sponsors, a problem noted by the Limerick secretary three years ago. His numbers seem a bit over-the-top – the host county doesn’t get all of the €10 spent in SuperValu and filling the gap with revenue in the ground to bring it up to a round €150,000 would be a lot of junk – and they have the added problem of a white elephant ground, something that needs to be rammed home the next time anyone feels a sense of inadequacy over our puny venues. The overall point remains though. Waterford have gone from budgeting for around 3,000 bums on seats one year to around 18,000 the next. You can’t plan adequately for any enterprise, even a non-profit one, with variables like that,
The madness of the economics of the modern GAA was archly summarised by the secretary of the Connacht Council when he noted that “county team administration costs in Connacht [are] almost five times the gate receipts for the championship (€747,554)”. Like the poor, moaning about the League format will always be with us. More radical solutions to the GAA’s funding gaps are needed if the impoverished county is not going to become the norm.