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Wednesday 22 August 2018

Dubs must beat demotion blues as Munster 'aristocrats' escape

FULL STRETCH: Wexford’s Matthew O’Hanlon (c) tackles Dublin’s Liam Rushe during the Leinster SHC Round 2 match at Innovate Wexford Park last Sunday. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
FULL STRETCH: Wexford’s Matthew O’Hanlon (c) tackles Dublin’s Liam Rushe during the Leinster SHC Round 2 match at Innovate Wexford Park last Sunday. Photo by Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Perhaps it's easier to say this in the flush of victory, instead of when you're staring down the relegation barrel yourself, but Matthew O'Hanlon isn't alone when he decries the imbalance that lies at the heart of hurling's new championship structure.

"I don't think it's right at all," said Wexford's co-captain after Sunday's injury-time comeback against a crestfallen Dublin.

"I think it's something that probably wasn't highlighted in Congress enough and the people in Congress didn't make enough of the decision.

"It's basically saying Munster hurling are these aristocrats and they are looking down on Leinster ... why should the fifth-placed team in Munster not get relegated if the fifth-placed team in Leinster does get relegated?"

For all of Pat Gilroy's defiant proclamations that Dublin are still in the qualification race, what cannot be ignored now is the grim alternative. If the Sky Blues conspire to lose at home to Offaly on Sunday week, they will - in all probability - find themselves in the Joe McDonagh Cup next summer. Hurling's answer to off-Broadway.

Desperately

On form, it shouldn't happen: Dublin are desperately unlucky to be pointless after two rounds of the Leinster round-robin series, having led Kilkenny and Wexford when the clock struck 70 before faltering in stoppage-time on consecutive Sundays.

Surely a repeat performance on June 3 would be enough to banish Offaly, for all the improvements shown by the Faithful under Kevin Martin this season?

But what if, in a Parnell Park cauldron, the hosts are betrayed by quivering wrists? Or what if Offaly cut loose as they did against Dublin at the end of January in Croke Park?

Then all bets are off.

In a nutshell, even if Offaly lose at home to Wexford this Saturday, a winning raid on the capital would leave them two points clear of the Dubs.

And in that scenario, even a last-day victory in the Salthill stomping ground of All-Ireland champions Galway would leave Dublin behind Offaly on the head-to-head rule (unless, unlikely as that seems, Galway also end up on two points, in which case scoring difference would be needed to separate all three).

It's less confusing than it sounds: basically the Offaly game is a must-win for Dublin. Their curse is to have performed well for zero reward but, leaving aside their injury-time travails, there is lots of scope for improvement.

Starting with discipline in the tackle: they've coughed up 25 pointed frees in two games while scoring just 13 themselves. Their shooting economy is another black mark: 24 wides in two games.

Top-three

Davy Fitzgerald's Wexford may have left it late but, after just one outing, they already look well positioned to push on in search of at least a top-three place in Leinster.

The prize for that is qualification for the All-Ireland series. Whereas the 'wooden spoon' reward for finishing fifth is the increasingly likely fate of automatic relegation. This would only be avoided if a currently struggling Kerry recover to capture the inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup.

In that scenario, Kerry would play off against the fifth placed team in Munster's round-robin group - only if the latter lost would demotion be their destiny.

Perhaps because of the feisty competition provided by Dublin and (to a lesser degree) Offaly, there is increasing anger in Leinster over how the same rules don't apply for Munster.

"You can see there is no lack of quality in the five teams that are in Leinster," O'Hanlon stressed.

"I don't think it's fair and I don't think it's fair on the Joe McDonagh teams, especially if Kerry were to win. They have earned the right to get up, if that's the way the rules are - but they have to play a play-off in Munster, where they don't in Leinster. It makes no sense.

"It's something that definitely needs to be looked at because it's not fair."

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