Violence not talent is stealing the show
WHAT grabbed the sporting and front page headlines on Monday? Was it the epic Tipperary-Galway Allianz hurling League final, an occasion whose sheer majesty rolled across the country like a warm, gentle breeze?
Here was a game that, had it been an All-Ireland final, played before 82,000 in Croke Park, would have been regarded as one of the all-time classics.
Sadly for the GAA, this enriching contest, played between two teams who indulged their talents rather than their baser instincts, had the headlines thieved by the Parnell Park disgrace.
What dominated the media yesterday? The fall-out from Parnell Park, of course. It's an on-going story which, however unpalatable for the GAA, remains top of the agenda.
On the same day as news broke that 16 Dublin and Meath footballers faced suspension for their grubby contribution to Sunday's embarrassment, the GAA announced that it would play Sunday's Derry v Kerry NFL Division 1 final at Parnell Park, a ground with a capacity of around 11,000.
Even then, the GAA were so aware that it wouldn't fill Parnell Park that they fixed the Fermanagh v Wexford Division 3 final as a curtain-raiser.
The Derry-Kerry game would do well to attract 7,000. Yet, when the counties last met in the NFL final back in 1961, a crowd of 32,254 attended. Two years earlier, they drew 32,405 to the final.
There were fewer travel options and a less affluent Ireland back then, yet the 32,000 barrier was broken. That's more than four times the expected attendance next Sunday, due mainly to the opposition from the Munster v Saracens rugby game.
The GAA is fully aware of the impact big rugby games can have on its drawing power as only 7,500 attended the 2006 Kerry-Galway NFL final, which was played in Limerick a few hours after the Munster-Leinster European semi-final.
Instead of being able to address the threat from an ever-broadening international sporting landscape this week, the GAA had to turn its attentions to disciplinary issues. Irrespective of how they market the football League finals, they know that it will be totally overshadowed by the Dublin-Meath affair.
As a small, indigenous amateur sporting organisation on the western rim of Europe, the GAA needs to be in a position to devote all its energies to promoting itself against the global exposure enjoyed by other sports.
Soccer is being heavily promoted this week by Liverpool v Chelsea and Manchester United v Barcelona, rugby by Munster v Saracens and racing by the Punchestown festival. Meanwhile, most GAA coverage centres on a football game where players couldn't hold their discipline.
It's easy to quiz Nickey Brennan, Paraic Duffy and other senior administrators on what they're doing to solve the problem and easier still to criticise them. However, that's as logical and as productive as blaming the gardai for the violence levels on our streets.
The truth is that while the GAA is underpinned by an incredible voluntary work ethic and dedication to the games, it's also infected by a serious lack of moral courage when it comes to implementing discipline.
It's a curious world where county officials and managers who operate on the basis that 'our Johnny is always right whatever he does' are regarded as heroic figures defending their own. It's a landscape where double-standards abound. County officers will defend their players using whatever loopholes they can find, yet the following week they become prosecutor, judge and jury for their own clubs.
Amazingly, many of them see nothing contradictory in this. The word 'sorry' doesn't exist in the GAA vocabulary even if its clever use (as in 'Semplegate' last year where an early apology would have saved Cork and Clare a whole lot of trouble) can be extremely judicious.
Dublin belatedly apologised yesterday, but we have heard nothing from Meath yet.
The GAA broke off diplomatic relations with the Australians in 2006 because of the visitors' violent approach to the second Test in Croke Park. How ironic that at a time when they are about to announce an official restoration of the International Rules series, the main story here concerns more trouble in the fields.
All of which goes to show that hypocrisy continues to thrive. It's like this. The GAA is facing big challenges from other sports, but these are small by comparison with the threat from within, one which can only be tackled by courageous people AT ALL LEVELS standing up for what's right.
Unfortunately, there's little evidence so far that they're there in sufficient numbers to make a difference. And if you doubt that, just watch how Dublin and Meath react to the suspensions.
Famous five head up championship betting
Whether or not form in the NHL will prove a reliable guide to the championship remains to be seen, but it has certainly sharpened the focus on five teams who have pulled well ahead of the rest in the All-Ireland betting.
The bookies, as represented by the public's money, see it as a five-way race between Kilkenny (5/6), Galway (9/2), Cork and Tipperary (13/2) and Waterford (8/1).
Quite why Galway are so far ahead of Cork, Tipp and Waterford is unclear, since they still seem to have serious defensive problems.
And despite their undeniable pedigree, Kilkenny's odds-on rating for the treble is extremely tight, even if they are virtual certainties to reach the All-Ireland semi-final directly via the Leinster championship.
Beaten 2007 All-Ireland finalists, Limerick have few friends at 20/1, while Clare (40/1), Wexford (100/1), Offaly (250/1) and Dublin (400/1) have fewer still.
NFL finals should be abolished
NOTWITHSTANDING the reduced interest in the NFL finals because of the Munster-Saracens rugby game, perhaps it's time to consider dropping the finals altogether and instead crown the Divisional winners as champions.
There seems to be more interest in promotion/relegation than in who actually wins the finals.
So, how about a new three-division League (something that Longford manager Luke Dempsey has championed), with each division comprised of 11 teams?
That guarantees teams 10 games, making it a fairer competition, while the extra rounds would compensate financially for the absence of finals.
By starting the competition two weeks earlier than usual, 10 games could easily be fitted in.
Under that system the following would be the new groups:
Kerry, Derry, Donegal, Galway, Mayo, Tyrone, Dublin, Westmeath, Laois, Kildare, Monaghan.
Armagh, Cork, Meath, Roscommon, Cavan, Fermanagh, Wexford, Down, Louth, Longford, Limerick.
Leitrim, Sligo, Offaly, Tipperary, Antrim, Waterford, Wicklow, Clare, Carlow, Kilkenny, London.