Competitive imbalance doing the game a disservice

Blaming Dublin for all of what ails Gaelic football became something of a hobby horse for a while. Which propagated the hideous notion that dividing those who represent the capital would somehow diminish the ferocity of the marauding force.

Bull. A two-headed monster would be far more difficult to slay than a lone wolf. Apart from that, one could very easily point out when Kilkenny seemed to be hurling in another galaxy there was no outcry to compartmentalise the Marble City.

Which brings our story neatly to what prompted its production. Namely, that the competition imbalance between how hurling and football are treated in terms of structure that it does the big ball code a disservice.

A school of thought erupted some years ago that worked on the premise that the best way to run a fair and balanced championship would be to have it as a league with the top four meeting in semi finals. Sadly, the proposal never gained traction. Even though hurling’s structures were altered to align teams of equal acumen with each other.

Yet, you look at the results in the weekend’s football championship games and it’s blindingly obvious that the system current – by which I mean the provincial championships and, in particular, reverting to knockout fare – is unwieldy and self-defeating and certainly not helpful when it comes to promoting the attractivness of football.

At a time when football had actually wrestled back pole position from the small ball code. Doubtless, there will be those who will, with some justification, point to the admirable victories of both Cavan and Tipperary as evidence that things are grand as they dre.

However, surely the recent relegation of both sides gives a more accurate reflection of their current standing in the game. Of course, the same principle works in the opposite direction too. Louth could consider themselves to have made commendable progress thus far under Mickey Harte – having gained National League promotion – yet they must now wait until God knows when to build on it.

Mickey Harte led Louth to promotion in his first season with them

Perhaps unusually, this corner finds himself in agreement with the Ballygawley native regarding the inequality of a knock-out championship system. In the wake of the Wee County’s extra time exit to Offaly, Harte lamented “You hate losing championship matches, in particular losing championship matches that are a done deal,” he is quoted saying by

“You’d love to have the qualifiers or you’d love to have the Tailteann Cup here, for players to go now and say you’ve put a huge effort into what you’ve done so far, there’s something else to go for.I think it doesn’t do justice to the teams that are trying to make themselves better and climb the ladder a bit.”

You can be sure there are many throughout the country currently sharing the multiple All Ireland winning boss’s sentiments. Not only because of the competitions being knock-out either. What could anyone gain out of the likes of the hammering Tony McEntee’s Sligo side took from Mayo?

Even looking at it from a different angle, while, akin to their opponents Louth, John Maughan’s men from the Faithful County could be credited with taking strides forward, with due respect to them, their summer odyssey is unlikely to extend much further. So in their case for example, they will, more than likely only end up getting two games in the midst of summer when activity should be at its most fervent.

From Clare to Mayo, onto Fermanagh and now Offaly, John Maughan has brought success

You can be sure those who walk the line better than Johnny Cash or Rodney Crowell ever did will of course trot out the age old line about the importance of the club scene and the like. To my mind, that pudding gets drastically over-egged. Of course clubs are important, but, it’s worth remembering that a very large chunk of the central funding filtered down to clubs is generated from gate receipts accrued during the summer championship.

As an aside, knowing how long the GAA take to allow the mere thought of change enter there radar, maybe by the time these wheels have clocked up another four decades they might have at least explored the possibility of assembling a structure whereby players are – first and foremost – club players who, during an assigned season, go into ‘camp’ with the county team. As is the case in soccer and rugby. Whatever the solution, something has to change because when I find myself agreeing with Mickey Harte things are drastic!

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