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Wednesday 16 October 2019

Give minnows a cup they can win - not crocodile tears

Roche's Point

Laois’ John O’Loughlin is congratulated by his dad, Oliver, after beating Westmeath
Laois’ John O’Loughlin is congratulated by his dad, Oliver, after beating Westmeath

An unusual query for all GAA junkies: is too much Leinster football championship action seriously injurious to your psychological well-being?

This particular question is aimed at yours truly after a weekend first. Never before can I remember watching four Leinster SFC quarter-finals, in the flesh, all on the same weekend.

That's four hours and 40 minutes of a championship widely decried as an irrelevance given the outright domination enjoyed by Dublin this decade ...

Correction: it's more like five-and-a-half hours, when you include 20 minutes of extra-time between Kildare and Longford and 30-plus minutes of stoppagge-time (we've counted, trust us!).

Given that Kildare/Longford was chapter four in this marathon endurance test, you might surmise that I greeted extra-time with numb despair. In fact, deadline pressure notwithstanding, I was relatively sanguine. For one reason: the game itself had been a curious delight, with the promise of more to come.

Calamitous

True, Kildare/Longford was blighted by calamitous errors and porous defending; in glorious compensation you had spectacular scores and heroic interventions and endless, wildly oscillating drama.

In other words, championship football at its unpredictable best.

It also came within the width of a quivering upright of delivering a huge early-summer shock to match Cavan toppling Monaghan and Roscommon turning over Mayo.

Watching on from the Tullamore press box, one comment struck a chord: "Wouldn't Leinster be a great championship if Dublin weren't involved?"

Therein lies the rub: the Delaney Cup (minus Dublin) would likely be a very democratic contest, winners alternating virtually every year.

That is not Dublin's fault or even Dublin's issue. The problem is for the GAA hierarchy to devise a championship structure where every ambitous county can harbour plausible aspirations of silverware. Even if that doen't mean winning the Sam Maguire.

As matters stand, though, you have Dublin currently out in front; a chasing pack of less than a handful who might have a puncher's knockout chance against them; a few others who aspire to belong in the top tier ... and all the rest.

Yesterday morning, GAA president John Horan reiterated his ambition for a second-tier football championship, possibly as early as 2020, saying that "now is the time" to grab this appetite for change.

This column will repeat itself: football is crying out for a tiered championship instead of crocodile tears for the minnows. That said, the GAA needs to be very careful how it structures and not merely how it markets its shiny new format.

For all the self-evident problems with the provincial championships, simply scrapping them may not be the answer.

For every futile mismatch where a Louth is routed by Dublin or a Clare crushed by Kerry (who won by 22 points last year without scoring a goal) you will have an earthquake elsewhere ... such as Carlow v Kildare or Longford v Meath last year; even Kildare/Longford last Sunday. Do you rob the minnow of his day in the May sun?

On the flip side, a host of lower division counties are facing into an All-Ireland series wherein they may win a qualifier round or two, if lucky, but have zero chance of silverware.

Think Sligo (lost to Galway by 13), Antrim (lost to Tyrone by 14), Carlow (lost to Meath by 15) and Louth (lost to Dublin by 26). Surely they'd be far better off seeking to reignite their summer in a competition they might actually win?

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