Saturday 7 December 2019

Football dying a slow death!

Provincial system no longer worth saving as fans vote with feet

Cormac Costello looks on after having his shot saved by Kildare goalkeeper Mark Donnellan
Cormac Costello looks on after having his shot saved by Kildare goalkeeper Mark Donnellan

The GAA has a problem.

I'm sure it has plenty of them actually, but it's most pressing issue, at this time of year at least, is the football Championship.

I'm going to whisper this. And look, I'm aware I'll be banished to hell for all eternity by true gaels and hurling men alike when I say it.

But some of us actually prefer football to hurling.

So far this summer, we've had three live televised football matches across two broadcast partners to satisfy our craven fetish.

My eldest son, like most kids of his age, spends hours on Youtube jumping from clip to clip of Messi and Ronaldo and Salah and whoever else.

The only reason he doesn't do the same for gaelic footballers is because so few of those videos exist.

We've had early summer saturation of the hurling Championship, just as the buzz of the final stages of the Champions League has died.

Meanwhile, the football Championship doesn't get a look-in until the 'Super 8s.'

The provincial championships have all the excitement of Europa League group matches.

Meanwhile, The Sunday Game starts at half nine on a Sunday but the football highlights could be well past bed time for most enthusiastic and impressionable kids.


And we've no midweek highlights programme.

Is it time for the GAA to have a channel of its own? Or a more prolific social media platform?

We're losing our audience. And the armchair supporter, the man or woman not attached enough to actually attend matches, is being totally ignored when they're precisely the sort of floating voter the GAA needs to suck in.

Do you know the worst part?

I don't blame RTE or Sky. The same way you couldn't hold it against those supporters who stayed away from Croke Park on Sunday.

You wouldn't go to the cinema if you knew beforehand not only how the film would end, but more or less how the plot lines would unspool.

So why then would anyone be shocked at the attendance for the Leinster semi-final double-header?

And it's not going to get any better.

If you thought the atmosphere was flat for Dublin and Kildare, trust me, it was practically raucous in comparison to an hour previously when Meath and Laois played out their semi-final to the sound track of their own voices echoing around Croke Park.

There's a weariness about these games now that I can't remember feeling before.

And not just in Leinster.

On Saturday we had for the first time this summer, a meeting of genuine All-Ireland contenders in Breffni Park in Donegal and Tyrone.

These two have been proper - and in some cases - bitter, rivals over the past decade.

During Jim McGuinness' reign, this fixture had the same gruesome appeal as any blood sport.

The attendance was 13,579.

Granted, I'm comparing one extreme with another here but in 2004 after Armagh and Tyrone had brought Sam Maguire north of the border in the previous two Septembers, the Ulster Council took the provision of moving their provincial final to Croke Park.

The attendance was 67,136.

Whatever about the Irish sporting public or even the neutral gaelic football follower, if supporters of these counties themselves can't manage to rouse a bit of excitement about going to that game, what hope has the current structure?

What are we trying to protect here? And at what cost?

The GAA need to give up on these provincial Championships before the rest of us do.

Cavan and Roscommon being in the Ulster and Connacht finals will inject some excitement over the next couple of weeks but that's a rarity.

Leinster is a dead duck. In Munster, Kerry are going for a ninth provincial title this decade.


The best teams in the country are pulling away into the distance and the potential for major upsets recedes with every advancement in team preparation and sports science.

How do you sell inter-county football to a player in a lower-ranking Leinster county?

League progression is fine but the Championship is what it's all about and whatever about motivational power, you'd need a fully trained hypnotist as manger to convince you that a provincial medal is an achievable target any more.

As it is, any system whereby one team has to win four matches and another just two to in order to make the 'Super 8s' through the front door is inherently unfair and unfit for purpose.

Other than a couple of sparky games in Ulster and one, possibly two decent matches in Connacht, what are we preserving the provincial Championships for?

The TV companies have made their choice. Increasingly, supporters are doing the same.

The 'Super 8's' solved a problem that didn't really exist. It's time now for the GAA to tackle this before football becomes an irrelevance.

What are we afraid of?

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