Listening to Joe Dolan is all well and good but who will benefit from his wise words?

Shortly after Westmeath were crowned the inaugural winners of the Tailteann Cup, it became known to this writer that their current Captain, Kevin Maguire, had actually played some of his underage football with St Peter’s, Dunboyne, as the family lived in the area and both his parents worked in a large place of business in the vicinity.

Since that nugget of information was garnered, there has been a pondering in this seat as to how it could be worked into an article. The answer? Via Colm O’Rourke and Joe Dolan. Now read on…

In the interview with Gerry Kelly of LMFM referred to in a previous piece, the newly installed Meath boss referred extensively and enthusiastically about the forthcoming revamped structures at inter county level in football.

Before getting into the rudiments of what it’ll all mean, the basic tent of the latest restructure will mean one thing above all else. A lot more games for county teams. Heading towards 20 depending on how far a team progresses throughout the season.

Which is what brought the most famous Westmeath Bachelor of them all to mind. Specifically, that there will be ‘More And More And More’ games at county level next season.

My initial reaction – if the new arrangements are understood correctly here – is they will be largely positive. If, as it appears to this observer, the Provincial and All Ireland Championships are being run as separate entities, that can only be a good thing. It certainly hasn’t done the Ladies game any harm.

However, if they do come to pass, the extra matches will only be as good for teams as they make them for themselves. For a team like Meath who are most likely facing into a period of transition, the extra outings on offer could prove invaluable.

Consider the manner in which Jack Cooney and his Westmeath players bought into the Tailteann Cup and where it got them. Moreover, the Kinnegad man’s extolling of the benefits of having the extra time together when they had exited the Leinster Championship was both telling and proven.

Kevin Maguire lifts the Tailteann Cup

A venerated Meath star of a bygone era opined to yours truly recently that, were we, for argument’s sake, to end up in the Tier 2 competition next summer, it would not represent the crippling catastrophe many might label it. His thinking was two fold “Div. 2 (of the National League) is going to be the most competitive it has possibly ever been”. And, besides that, “There is a tendancy in Meath to slightly overestimate our own status in the game”.

Reluctantly, I found myself at least partially agreeing with the second part of that. However, it must be remembered under Andy McEntee’s stewardship they did make it to the top table in the league and the last eight in the Championship.

Neither may have gone to plan for them, but you’d hope that if some of the same personnel were to arrive at the same locations again the experience of having been there would stand to them.

Furthermore, games will bring a team on more than all the training sessions under the sun. That is to say, competitive games. Meaning fixtures against commensurate opposition. Again, see Westmeath. Getting hammered worse than a fencing post does no team any good.

For this observer, the cream on the cake of this latest raft of proposals is the expanding of the entwining of the National Football League and the Championship. Of course, to an extent that already took hold this season with teams in the bottom two divisions of the league going into the new competition when their involvement in their regional competition – if one was to title it thus – had ended.

Now however, the concept has been expanded upon whereby, with the two parts to the championship, teams fate is in their own hands regarding whether they go onto the All Ireland series.

Technically, that has always been the case, the major difference now being that your summer destination will be decided ln the spring. Meaning that, in theory at least, you’ll have matches between teams on a par.

That in itself should reduce the possibility of it coming down to the haves and the have nots. Mind you, worryingly and upsettingly, it is rapidly becoming a similar situation at club level. Something only accentuated by the breaking news surrounding the possible switch of Galway ace Shane Walsh to Dublin giants Kilmacud Crokes.

Shane Walsh

Look, I would love to see a transfer market in GAA more than most, but there would have to be structure to it and limitations to how it would be utilised. To me, one of the worst indictments which can be levelled at the GAA – at adult level – is the apparently growing necessity for clubs to amalgamate in order to merely survive.

To say that the two main reasons for this happening are both money related might be to over simplify it. But, whether male or female, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it generally is a duck. Put another way, while there are many who would seek to deflect therefrom, the money on offer – to county players in particular – to play Gaelic football in the US and/or Australian Rules Football is the most significant factor in causing the player drain which, naturally, in a knock on effect, puts clubs under pressure.

Which gets to the nub of the issue, what are the GAA/LGFA doing to incentivise players to stay at home, both for club and county reasons? Well, one would hope the new structures which are the main reason behind what you are reading – not to mention the Tailteann Cup – would go some way towards making the prospect of hanging around a shade more attractive.

Sadly, it would appear those with far too much power with the Association will never lose their aversion to professionalism, even at county level, but it’s unlikely, if the subject were properly investigated and pursued that anything could be done to stop players receiving endorsements on an individual basis were such opportunities to arise.

If you go back far enough, you might remember Wexford’s Paul Codd having a very short lived endorsement deal with Paddy Power before the Brains Trust got their noses enough out of joint that the adverts were gone of his hurls before a lot of people would’ve even known they were there.

Paul Codd’s Paddy Power hurl

Interestingly, in researching for this piece, it was discovered that the former half forward donated whatever few quid arose from the unfortunately short lived venture to a fund for his team mates. Why similar couldn’t happen in every county is beyond me.

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However, as was intimated several paragraphs ago, the problems with funding are considerably greater than just regarding properly rewarding players. What I like to refer to as trickle down effect.

We all know where the biggest chunk of the funding goes. Whether that’s right or not is a separate issue. But, the point is that whenever whatever is left to divide out among the masses gets distributed, smaller counties and by extension clubs, are often left well short of what they’d like and require.

Those shortfalls in turn lead to disenchantment which thereafter lead folk to take flight. Either internally or literally. Now, at this point it will be readily confessed that this writer has zero knowledge of the Kilkerrin/Clonbeirne club in Galway. However, you’d scarcely need to be possessed of smarts on a par with Elon Musk to calculate the enormity of a blow the defection of the mercurial Walsh would be to his home parish.

Without want to sound cruel to either Walsh or Crokes, they hardly need him. The Stillorgan outfit were within seconds of lifting the Andy Merrigan Cup last back end, but now, with the possible exception of Ballymun Kickhams, the probability is that Robbie Brennan’s charges will have little difficulty getting out of Dublin. After that, the nation could be their oyster.

Anyway, to return to the current situation in Meath, one of the more interesting changes which coincides with Colm O’Rourke’s appointment as manager is the mooted advent of regional competitions for clubs at Junior and Intermediate level while sources indicate there may even be a similar initiative at Senior level also.

In effect, it would appear these new events – to be played during the autumn/winter will act as an audition for players to put themselves in the shop window for the new management team.

As the new gaffer put it himself “And it won’t be just in one game, but over a series of them”. Extra games definitely seem to be the way to go, great news for spectators. What benefit individual players and/or teams get out of them is all down to themselves.

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