Another go at solving the unanswerable question

With Guest Contributor Paraic Farrelly (@FarrellyParaic1 on Twitter)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Laois defeating Meath in the first round of the 1992 Leinster SFC is as fresh in the mind today as the shock was when it happened. To an impressionable 11-year-old, this wasn’t supposed to happen.

For the previous two summers, the entire school holidays had been consumed with attending Meath matches in Croke Park. Yet, here was a different scenario to adjust to. One which would perhaps inevitably become more familiar as time went by.

I refer, of course, to the reality of Meath being out of the Championship early. Now, at this juncture, it should be pointed out that for a raft of counties this has all too often been their lot until at least some form of recompense was instigated with the inception of the Qualifiers in 2001. And they certainly were an improvement. After all, Galway took the circuitous route to Sam Maguire that year, before steamrolling a Meath team that had been on the motorway all summer.

While that was naturally a major sales pitch for the ‘Back Door’ system, it didn’t assuage the fact that teams were still taking pastings if, for example, there were teams of unequal status paired together. On that point, and this is only my opinion, but, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was at least part of the reason behind the formation of the GPA. Apart from, obviously, improving issues like player welfare – physical and mental – recovery sessions, expenses and the like. Basically, having their interests properly represented.

The only problem with it was, Stevie Wonder could see it was moulded with county players interests at heart. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Aside from the fact that we operate in a world where we are told club is sacrosanct. To my mind, money talks, but that’s a tale for another day. Either way, it was probably inevitable that a body like that strangely short-lived Club Players’ Association would emerge. Headed up as it was by two Meath men, Michael Briody and Anthony Moyles.

Why they disbanded having got seemingly the only thing they went looking for, the (ridiculous) split season, is beyond me. Anyway, the split season has done nothing to develop or improve our games. Only turned what should be the flagship competitions for the Association into an ill-fitting farce. In fairness, attempts have been made at creating a better template, but having the two showpiece fixtures done, dusted and forgotten about before the winter barley is even cut is nothing short of a disgrace.

Granted, they have at least come up with a group-based All Ireland Championship giving the top 16 teams a decent amount of matches against opponents of similar ilk. Likewise with the remainder in the Tailteann Cup. But it’s still a half-baked solution. If only because it makes the elephant in the GAA’s China cabinet – the provincial championships – look like even more of an eyesore. Were it not for the exceptional encounter between Derry and Armagh, the Ploughing Championships would’ve been more compelling viewing than the other three.

Derry’s Conor Glass familiarises himself with the Anglo Celt Cup

Now, sites like Twitter can come in for a fair degree of flack, some of it wholly merited given the keyboard warrior mentality and dross which can prevail thereon. Though it shouldn’t be a case of tarring the entire platform with the one brush.

Some of the best contacts and information I’ve garnared have been in the land of Mr Musk, as it unfortunately now is. There’s nothing more pleasurable than engaging with a fellow ‘Stato’ or somebody with encyclopediac knowledge or a collector of memorabilia. Comparing notes with them all.

It may well be the case that Paraic Farrelly is a combination of all of the above. He’s certainly one of the deepest thinkers on the structural mechanics of the game I know. Recently, during one of our online football discussions, he told me he had come up with a proposal to iron out the oddities that still remain in the new system. Or, more pointedly, the provincial championship.

He outlines his idea thus “The Leinster Championship is definitely in need of a revamp. Next year, all Leinster Championship matches should be played at provincial venues. Including semi finals and final.

Stephen Cluxton won an amazing 17th Leinster SFC medal in 22 years last weekend.

As few Ulster Championship games as possible played in Clones”. His ideas to improve all things football go even further. To the extent that he has also drawn up his version of an alternative GAA season which the Brains Trust of the Association would do well to study.

He continues “The provincial championships should be played in January or February as a stand alone, and on group basis. Run the National League off between March and April, with semi finals and finals in each division”.

Under Paraic’s proposals, that would leave May, June and July free to run off the Championship, with the All Ireland Final played on the August Bank Holiday weekend. With the remainder of the season free for club activity.

Finally, a few very interesting points on broader issues. Such as the fact that Dublin should have a decent sized stadium other than Croke Park, to take that old chestnut off the frying pan. Bertie Bowl, anybody?

Of all the ideas raised in what was truly an intriguing document, what really got these wheels spinning was the idea of at least trying to revive the International Rules Series and/or the Railway Cup.

Some with probably scoff at the manuscript, others mightn’t even take the time to consider what’s in it, but I’ll tell you what, there’s more thought in it and merit to it than some of what the so-called experts come up with.

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