Thursday 25 August 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Ripping up provincial map is fastest route to progress

Many counties would benefit from a fairer championship format, says Colm O'Rourke

Published 18/12/2011 | 05:00

The necessity of life is change. It is going to happen anyway so the best thing is to manage it as well as possible.

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In the GAA change comes slowly so when president Christy Cooney suggested movement of counties to create four provinces of eight there was shock and horror in many quarters, mainly at provincial council level.

Yet how could anyone disagree with making competitions fair? Connacht has five counties, Leinster has 12. The basis of all competition should be that all teams play the same amount of games to win the All-Ireland and it is easier for teams from Munster and Connacht to win the big cup than for teams from Leinster and Ulster.

With great interest I read that Pat Cahill, chairman of the Longford County Board but speaking in a personal capacity, said he would have no objection in moving into Connacht. In America in the mid-1800s, the saying was 'go west young man' and if players in Longford and other counties were thinking about their future they would be urging their county boards to try something different.

In most respects the definition of stupidity is to keep doing the same thing while hoping for a different outcome, so there are many counties who should not be tied by traditional boundaries but strike out on a new path which could bring a real change in fortunes. If Longford moved west they would be very competitive in the Connacht championship. Their well-organised minor and under 21 teams of the recent past would also be more successful.

What has Leinster to offer? More of the same. Maybe Cavan should be thinking on the same lines even if it is sacrilege in Ulster to even think of something different than winning an Ulster title. Even in Fermanagh they still long for that provincial championship.

Everyone is entitled to their aspirations but players should look at where their best interests lie and it is certainly not in being repeatedly beaten. The county that would benefit most from a transfer would be Antrim but they are too isolated while the prospect of Donegal moving to Connacht with their recent model of football would not meet with much approval as the Connacht championship has the most traditional form of the game. On a purely geographical basis, a new Connacht with the original five plus Offaly, Longford and Cavan would make for interesting competition.

If Kilkenny and Wexford moved to Munster, there would be a serious championship in hurling at least and with these re-alignments there would be four provinces of eight teams. If provinces were to be created now instead of hundreds of years ago there would hardly be the imbalances that exist so why should the GAA be forever tied into an inequitable system? In reality, the provincial championship has done nothing for weak counties, never has, never will, so it is long past time for change.

Naturally, any mood for change would meet stiff resistance with money the main consideration, along with a fear of the unknown. Money should be the last thing considered. The only thing that matters is the fairness or otherwise of four provinces of eight. There is no debate there.

So the suggestions are:

Leinster: Meath, Louth, Dublin, Kildare, Laois, Carlow, Westmeath, Wicklow

Connacht: Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon, Leitrim, Cavan, Longford, Offaly.

Munster: Kerry Cork, Clare, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny, Limerick.

Ulster: Monaghan, Armagh, Tyrone, Antrim, Donegal, Derry, Down, Fermanagh.

With this system there may be some easing of club chaos but if those important people who always talk about helping clubs want to really do something about it they should set about devising a league championship structure with set dates for the year where club fixtures could be slotted in.

Instead of that, the situation is that clubs will never know when they are playing as it all depends on the progress of the county team. In this system that uncertainty could be wiped out at a stroke. With three divisions of 11, 11 and ten, every county could have a fixture schedule up to August. Either four or six could qualify for the play-offs in each division which would be the real money-spinner. Into the bargain each county could get five home games at the right time of year, which they could promote and also keep the gate.

Now the catch in this is that only the top division would be playing for the Sam Maguire and many counties would find that too hard to swallow. But how many real contenders are there for next year's All-Ireland? Six or eight at the most. By creating a competition like this, the GAA would merely be replicating the model that works for club competitions, senior, intermediate and junior, with promotion and relegation.

That is the future and it would be good for debate if the GPA could come with a model which represented the views of the players. Surely players should see farther than the rut which most counties are stuck in. As for picking the teams for each division, I think I will leave that one as I want to enjoy Christmas!

In Meath last week and only a short time after the death of Peter McDermott, another great servant of the past, Liam Creavin, went over the river. A man who gave amazing service as both secretary and treasurer combined, for over 40 years, from the '50s to the '90s.

Under his watch Meath won five All-Irelands but he was not a man for the limelight, he did his work in the background with quiet efficiency. Always dignified and courteous, he was an incredibly loyal servant of the GAA and it was men like him who really built the organisation in difficult times without fuss or fanfare. He will sleep quietly.

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