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Monday 26 June 2017

Lesson of 40-point rout... Dublin SFC reform is a must

Jack McCaffrey believes the Dublin Championship is a bit too big and unwieldy. Photo: Sportsfile
Jack McCaffrey believes the Dublin Championship is a bit too big and unwieldy. Photo: Sportsfile

Sometimes a scoreline betrays what really happened - think of the 2010 Leinster senior football final between a luckless Louth and steeped-beyond-belief Meath.

Other times, it only tells half the story.

But many more times you don't have to read beyond the result. It happened over the weekend, in the Dublin senior football championship: Ballymun Kickhams 8-18, St Mary's of Saggart 0-2.

This isn't meant as a criticism of Mary's; anything but. We weren't in O'Toole Park but can guess how painful the experience was.

It is a criticism, though, of the Dublin SFC format. When a senior club loses by 40 points (we've done the maths, with the help of a calculator) it begs an urgent question about the system itself.

If this were a one-off, you might accept the excuse about occasional mismatches between a very strong team (as Ballymun clearly are) and a weaker one that starts badly, whereupon the wheels come off.

But this was not unique. In the first round last month, Kilmacud Crokes eclipsed Erin's Isle by 10-12 to 0-7. The club that gave us Keith Barr and Charlie Redmond, that reached the 1998 All-Ireland final, had lost by 35 points.

strength

We can hear the counter-argument, loud and clear ... how can anyone question the strength of a Dublin SFC that has produced four AIB All-Ireland club champions in the past decade, and eight of the last ten Leinster winners?

All true. But clearly, in Dublin's case, strength in depth is relative.

There are 32 senior clubs in the capital. This is far too many. Does any other county even come close?

Cork are probably next, with 26 senior entrants in both its football and hurling championships. But then Cork have more clubs than anyone else.

If there were 32 competitive senior clubs in Dublin, this wouldn't be an issue. But this is patently not the case.

Consider this: St Mary's had earlier beaten Whitehall Colmcille by eight points (1-15 to 1-7) so you can only presume the latter were secretly half-relieved to have avoided a round two date with the 2013 All-Ireland finalists.

The merciless men of 'Mun had already seen off St Pat's of Palmerstown by a trifling 20 points - 5-17 to 2-6. Sylvester's had blized St Anne's by 18 (3-14 to 0-5).

Meanwhile, St Jude's have won their two opening rounds by a cumulative 33 points against a brace of North County victims (1-20 to 0-6 against Naomh Mearnóg, 2-17 to 0-7 against Skerries Harps).

Our suspicion is that certain influential figures in the Dublin county board hierarchy would welcome a more streamlined SFC that reduced the potential for some of the glaring mismatches cited above.

But would the clubs be willing to buy it, or are they holding onto their senior status because of the kudos attached?

If that is the case, they should think again: there is no prestige in playing above your station when the inevitable end result is to be routed. It does nothing for player morale and won't help to push up standards either.

The same argument is peddled at inter-county level, where there has been an historic resistance to a 'B' championship, curiously led by the weaker counties who might actually gain from playing in a championship of near-equals.

Jack McCaffrey - whose own club, Clontarf, fell at this year's first fence to Thomas Davis - w as quoted last week as saying the Dublin SFC was "a bit too big and unwieldy" and that reform should be considered.

The 2015 Footballer of the Year is not alone in his view: a Twitter poll conducted by DubMatchTracker after this year's first round cited an average winning margin of 10.75 points, and the fact the season is over for some teams in April, and asked is it time for change? Some 89pc of the 1,177 respondents answered yes.

The rush to play off early rounds is clearly to facilitate Dublin's quest for Sam; in all probability, the eight clubs still standing won't play their quarter-finals until the end of September.

But having 32 senior teams militates against a round-round group stage; and so you have a straight knockout format which fuels the possibility that a title contender (such as Ballyboden St Enda's, All-Ireland kingpins just 14 months ago) can lose early and thus be banished to the 'B' championship.

First up, though, Boden had to play a relegation match against Whitehall. They won, by 1-15 to no score. QED.

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