herald

Friday 15 December 2017

system not fair to weaker sides

Tired and outdated structures leave too few matches for lesser counties

The provincial championships have concluded without too much excitement and we are now left with the All-Ireland series. Now the real competition begins and the interest levels rise among the counties lucky enough to be left in the competition.

The provincial format is outdated and has lost its appeal. It is time to take a serious look at the football championship in its entirety because the gap between the best teams and the rest is widening and the present format is very unfair on the weaker teams.

The year 2016 will be the window of opportunity for the GAA to change the competitions and I hope they sit down and discuss the best ways of making our games more appealing, especially in the weaker counties.

I can't understand why they have allowed the provincial championships and the qualifiers to continue over the last 13 years without seriously considering change.

The GAA have forgotten about the majority and are happy with a minority of counties competing and winning the big prizes every year. The weaker counties are struggling and are going to find it harder to compete with the likes of Dublin and Mayo unless something changes.

It is almost impossible to promote the games in the counties who find themselves out of the running early - with just two miserable games in the most important competition of the year it's easy to see why these counties are getting more and more disillusioned with the whole thing.

The supporters also need more meaningful games, especially the younger ones who at times hardly know the county team exists. Have the GAA totally forgotten about its weaker members, or can they do anything to help promote the games in those counties?

One way that would change things would be to create more meaningful games at this time of year and the only way to do that would be to create a two- or 
three-tier system where teams 
would find their level of competition.

It works very well at club level, so there's no reason at all why it can't be successful at inter-county level. There are no junior teams in Dublin playing in the senior championship because it simply wouldn't work.

The same can be said for any senior teams who just wouldn't play in a junior championship and wouldn't want to for that matter. The same principal could work very well at inter-county level, but it would need the weaker teams to buy into it.

Operate

I think there are probably 10 teams in the country that could operate comfortably in the 'senior' competition and the other 16 teams, with New York and London, divided between intermediate and junior level.

The same principal would apply in terms of gaining promotion or demotion and there is no doubt about it that the competition would be better than it is currently. Winning any championship gives you a massive boost in confidence and prepares you for the next level.

The counties who are struggling each year desperately want more games. The players are training as hard and as often as the ones who find themselves running out in Croke Park in September so it is time to recognise their efforts with more game.

Each county plays a minimum of seven league games every year but most only mange two championship games. The present fixture list is also totally lopsided and unfair on teams while favouring others.

Roscommon, after losing to Mayo, had to wait five weeks before they played again (against Cavan) and some would argue that the time gap worked in their favour. The break gave them time to get over the defeat, maybe get back to the clubs for a game or two and then refocus on the next game.

The disappointment of losing to Mayo was long forgotten when the faced their Ulster opponents and they managed to win the game.

For Wexford, it was a completely different story. After losing heavily to Dublin they were fixed to play Laois one week later and it was no surprise that they lost the game, albeit by a single point. Where is the fairness in that?

There are many other similar cases over the years where teams have had a very short turnaround time while others have been able to recover sufficiently to give themselves a real chance in the next game.

There should be more county fixtures at this time of year and that means a league-based championship. The provincial championships are tired and outdated and the qualifiers are nothing more than a box-ticking exercise.

Calendar

In two years' time all the competitions both club and county will finish in the one calendar year which means that the club championships will need to be started earlier in the year.

It will be interesting to see how this works but it shouldn't present too many issues. I hope the GAA sit down and discuss how they can improve the game in the weaker counties.

More games would be a good start and if they have to cram them all into a three- or four-month period, then what harm in that.

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