The National Hurling League (NHL; Irish: Sraith Iomána Náisiúnta) is an annual hurling competition between the county teams of Ireland. Contested by 34 teams (31 Irish county teams plus London, Warwickshire and Fingal — a sub-county division intended to increase the reach of hurling), it operates on a system of promotion and relegation between six different divisions, with Division 1A comprising the top six teams in the country. Sponsored by Allianz, it is therefore officially known as the Allianz National Hurling League.
The Gaelic Athletic Association organises the league, which begins in February and concludes in May, at which stage the league final is held. The prize for the winning Division 1A team is the Dr. Croke Cup. In some seasons, including 2012, the winner of Division 1B is allowed to compete in the knockout stages of the Division 1A title.
The Division 1 title has been won at least once by ten different counties, nine of which have won the title more than once. The all-time record-holders are Tipperary, who have won the competition 19 times. Waterford are the current champions.
The NHL was first held in 1925–26, 38 years after the first All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship, with Cork being the first winners. The League has traditionally played second fiddle to the All-Ireland, with most counties using it as a warm-up for the All-Ireland. This was not helped by the fact that the League was played in winter (November–March usually) while the championship had the more attractive summer dates and knockout structure.
In 1997, the league was changed to a February–April calendar, which has increased interest with attendances growing and live games broadcast on TG4.
34 teams play in the National Hurling League. There are six teams in the top five divisions, and four teams in Division 3B. Each team plays each other once, either home or away. 2 points are awarded for a win, and 1 for a draw. Where two teams are level on points, the team that won the head-to-head match is ranked ahead. If this game was a draw, points difference (total scored minus total conceded in all games) is used to rank the teams. Where three or more teams are level on points, points difference is used to rank them. Cavan and New York are the only teams not to contest in the National Hurling League.
Division 1A: Top four teams qualify for NHL quarter-finals. Bottom two teams play a relegation play-off, with the losing team relegated to Division 1B.
Division 1B: Top team promoted to 1A. Top four teams qualify for NHL quarter-finals. Bottom two teams play a relegation play-off, with the losing team playing a promotion-relegation match against the Division 2A champions.
Division 2A: Top two teams play Division 2A final, with the winning team playing a promotion-relegation match against the loser of the Division 1B relegation play-off. Bottom team relegated to Division 2B.
Division 2B: Top two teams play division final, with the winner being promoted. Bottom two teams play a relegation play-off, with the losing team playing a promotion-relegation match against the Division 3A champions.
Division 3A: Top two teams play Division 3A final, with the winning team playing a promotion-relegation match against the loser of the Division 2B relegation play-off. Bottom team relegated to Division 3B.
Division 3B: Top two teams play division final, with the winner being promoted.
Setanta Sports broadcasts live matches in Australia. Setanta Sports also provides matches from the National Hurling League in Asia. In Ireland TG4 shows live matches each week on Sunday afternoon, with defferred coverage of a second match shown straight after. Setanta Sports broadcasts matces live on the Saturday evening slot. Highlights for all the games are shown at 7:00pm on League Sunday on RTE2.