There is a fine line dividing the standard of hurling between Division 1A and 1B in the National hurling league. In recent years, the teams of 1B have reaped the rewards of the spring silverware. Ahead of this weekend’s Division 1 finals I ask the question, Is Division 1B the easier path to the National hurling league final?
GAA pundits shout how Division 1A is where the best hurling is played and where teams should aspire to play and they are right, to an extent. Waterford and Clare have easily made their stamp in the National hurling league both emerging from 1B in the last two years, but it must be asked, would they experienced the same dominance if there were in Division 1A? In recent times there also has been calls to move Division 1A to an eight team competition instead of the current six which make sense given the status of 1B capability against the ‘Big Dogs’.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner last week on Clare’s 1B campaign, Clare senior hurler Conor McGrath felt his side were fresher for their semi-final win which caught All-Ireland Champions Kilkenny off guard. He makes a valid point that undoubtedly playing against harder teams in tougher games would leave players drained both mentally and physically from playing at a higher level “I suppose the 1A matches are so intense that maybe the 1A teams come out of the league stages a bit tired and worn out from it whereas the 1B teams are a bit fresher”. It could be down to the fact that when sides play less challenging teams, they can experiment and not use their starting fifteen players’ for all their games. He continued that recent trends suggest that the Division 1B campaign pays off when it comes to the knock-out stages, “I don’t know but the last couple of years have shown that anyway with Limerick winning up in Dublin as well. Division 1B will be no excuse for us come the final or the championship. It’s still a decent standard of hurling”.
The talented forward concluded that although the standard was different in 1B it gave Clare a chance to recuperate from last year’s relegation.
“It was a bit different in 1B matches against lower opposition. I’m sure a lot of the 1A teams would have 100% records as well if they were in 1B. It helped us to get a bit of momentum after a couple of bad years.”
In 2014, 1B winners Cork were narrowly defeated by Tipperary in the league semi-final. In 2015, Waterford eased passed all of their 1B opposition and defeated the “better” 1A teams to win the National Allianz hurling league for the first time since 2007. In 2016 Clare toppled Kilkenny from the hurling podium to book a league final spot after comfortably defeating all of their 1B opposition and top of 1A’s Kilkenny. It’s also hard to see past Galway demolish the likes of Laois, Offaly, Wexford and Kerry to book a place in the final eight in next year’s league campaign. Only time will tell, Watch this space.