It will be a case of familiarity prompting caution when Meath take on either Longford or Carlow in their opening joust of the 2021 Leinster SFC. The road map for a return to the playing fields became a modicum clearer this week with the staggered roll out of the Championship draws in both football and hurling.
Regrettably but not surprisingly, debilitating obduracy has again dissuaded the Brains Trust of the GAA from giving change a chance. What the objection to re-instating the back door structure – even if they did bottle it on giving the Super 8s another go – was is hard to fathom. Purists will, with some justification, highlight noteworthy occurrences such as Tipperary coming out tops in Munster and Cavan’s conquest of Ulster as plausible demonstrations of the viability of the provincial system in its current form.
However, while the achievements of the teams managed by David Power and Mickey Graham respectively were obviously highly commendable and indeed a badly needed gust of fresh air for Gaelic football in general, two swallows are never enough to constitute a summer. With respect, if the two counties concerned were to this season vindicate their breakthroughs – or other outfits were to similarly emerge – then overtures aimed at maintaining the status quo might be a little bit more promotable.
Ulster will most likely remain a powder keg of unpredictability, but, down south, you’d get hard to see the big two being dormant for too long. Gut feeling is that all wasn’t well in The Kingdom last year, for whatever reason, and though Cork football had appeared in disarray for an elongated period of time for a county with such rich history and tradition, the garnering of a couple of titles at underage level would appear to signal the impending rousing of a sleeping giant.
Though the following gives this writer absolutely no pleasure, if looking for Exhibit A in articulating why the current system with the provinces is not so much on life support as experiencing full blown rigor mortis, look no further than Leinster. Engaging in pitch and toss regarding all the advantages at Dublin’s disposal is about as useful as wearing flip flops in a tug-o-war. Ultimately, it’s up to their competitors to get affairs in order at their end so as to have themselves in the best position to at least challenge the kingpins.
Even in attempting to be dispassionate about the situation, Meath must be considered the best of the rest in the biggest province. Albeit a distance behind the runaway freight train that is Dublin. There are stirrings of regrowth showing mind you.
However, for that feeling to attain credability and credence, they need to be aiming towards getting back into Div. 1 of the National League at a minimum. Something which, presuming the groups remain as they were announced originally – Meath, Westmeath, Mayo and Down – would seem highly doable.
Now, chances are the re-structured leagues were arrived at by accident, owing to the chaos Covid-19 has inflicted upon the world. But if ever there was a case for an apt deployment of the term ‘Happy Accident’ that was it. To an extent anyway. Smaller groupings will naturally mean a competitive edge to all games whilst at the same time pitting teams of similar status against one another.
And still, despite what were undoubtedly some changes for the better, paralysis by fear of change precluded the Brains Trust from taking the opportunity to make even more radical change which would’ve been of incalculable value. There’s more chance of Dick Dastardly stopping the pigeon than the provincial championships maintaining a facade of relevance.
A glorious opportunity to merge the league and championship into a potentially marvellous competition has been coughed up. Something not helped by comments implying that the game was becoming too much like Australian Rules. Ballderdash. I wouldn’t care if it was like something from Outer Mongolia if it encouraged more kicking of the ball and less hand passing.
Anyway, hopefully one day Jarlath Burns or somebody similar with a modern-thinking mind will get the top job in the GAA and give such a hybrid competition a chance. Here’s what I had in mind:
1: Four divisions of eight teams – incorporating either London or Kilkenny.
2: The top teams in the four divisions qualify for the Sam Maguire Cup semi finals
3. Second placed teams in each to play semi finals of, say, the Paidi O’Se Cup.
4. Div. 1 and 2 teams in one draw, 3 and 4 in the other.
5. The finals of both competitions to be played off as a double-header in Croke Park
Although that would mean – reluctantly at least on my part – culling the pre-season competitions, it would also enable the compaction of the inter county season to between, for example, February and May. Thus, the poor petrified souls engulfed by palpitations about the future of the club scene would hopefully be mollified by the knowledge from May onwards would be solely the preserve of club activity.
In the meantime, though, at least it feels like there is again a point in thinking and talking about GAA. For a long to time it appeared there was more chance of having a white Christmas than games being on. And Meath will have plenty to think about before their summer opener.
Both Longford and Carlow have proven to be major stumbling blocks for Meath teams in the past, but gut feeling is that football in the county, at all levels, is in a better place now than when those banana skins proved troublesome in the past.
If, as is genuinely hoped, they are dining at the top table again by the time summer’s journey begins, it would surely vindicate that view.
FOGRA: Best wishes to Andy as he runs 10km for 10 days to raise funds for Eimear Murray – daughter of Meath Ladies senior Manager Eamonn – who is currently undergoing treatmeant for a serious illness. Adh Mor libh go leir.