Chance missed to make worthwhile changes to inter-county structure
Off the Ball - Getting inside the Game
Published 11/12/2013 | 23:31
Speaking at the launch of the Football Review Committee (FRC) structure changes, chairman Eugene McGee said: "competition structures are at the very heart of how football operates and there were broadly two key aspects to be addressed -- inter-county structures and club fixture-making."
But what, in fact, did they actually address regarding inter-county structures?
After consulting 4,000 people, in a process that took close to a year, the best that they came up with was to move three of the worst counties in Leinster and the worst county in Ulster into the Munster and Connacht championships.
One of the main criticisms of the Munster and Connacht provincial championships is that they're not competitive. Will moving Division 3 and 4 teams like Wicklow, Carlow and Antrim across address this issue?
The FRC's proposals are conservative and represent what they think will pass at Congress rather than what would make for a more exciting, fairer championship.
The underwhelming January competitions remain intact, and the only proposed change to the National League is to remove semi-finals. The length of the season, stretching from January to September, would remain unchanged.
It's well documented that the National Football League has lost its appeal. Attendances are down and some managers continue to treat it with disdain. To give the league a boost, they should have linked it to the championship. That would have reduced the heavy training that occurs during the league because managers would be required to take it seriously.
The championship should be two-tiered, yielding two All-Ireland champions every season.
Club championships are graded from senior to junior, giving more teams a realistic chance of winning. Junior teams would love to win a senior county title, but understand they're not at the required level. Why should the inter-county championship be any different? Division 3 and 4 teams competing against Kerry and Dublin for the All-Ireland title is silly.
But what's most disappointing is that the players themselves are generally disengaged from this process.
The majority of the players I played with never thought much about the games' structures, rule changes or even tactics. They just kept the head down like sheep and got on with training. The muted response to the GPA's restructuring proposals from players was disappointing, but didn't surprise me.
Kilkenny hurler Richie Hogan tweeted in response to the changes: "Where do they come up with this s**t! Just leave the thing alone!"
While the FRC have proposed some worthwhile changes, notably for club fixtures, the inter-county structural proposals could have been more radical.
I think they have blown a massive opportunity here to really make a real difference.
Euro mess shames unions and clubs
As Toulouse pounded away on the Connacht line on Sunday, as Leinster sacked Franklin's Gardens on Saturday, it was hard not to feel slightly wistful about the potential end of the Heineken Cup.
Even if it continues next season without the English clubs (and potentially without the Welsh) we'll have been denied the full expression of the tournament. That's a shame. It's a shame on the various unions who have been unable to prevent the clubs from flexing their muscles and it's a shame on the clubs for -- at best -- being incapable of the political skills required to convince everyone else that they had a viable, intelligent plan.
Eventually some pan-European competition will return after Sky and BT make a deal and everyone gets to save some face. This might not just be the last season we get to see Brian O'Driscoll play rugby, but it may be the last season that the glory of the Heineken Cup is available on tap to us as well.