Saturday 25 March 2017

Duffy fed up with complaints about All-Ireland formats and insists Croker way best

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

GAA DIRECTOR GENERAL Paraic Duffy has grown tired of hearing complaints about the All-Ireland championship formats.

He dealt with the matter at considerable length in the GAA's annual report this week, showing little patience for those who want the provincial championships scrapped and the All-Ireland series redesigned in a 'Champions League' group format or the traditionalists who favour a return to the straight knock-out, which applied in hurling up to 1996 and football up to 2000.

Rather strangely, he also claimed that criticisms of the provincial championships usually come from outside the Association, without specifying any of the sources.

"Within the Association, I am unaware of any great desire to abandon our traditional structures, with the exception of the entirely reasonable and practical incorporation of Antrim and Galway into the Leinster hurling championship."

He also accused "some commentators of having displayed scant knowledge of the administrative structures of the GAA and of the manner in which our games fit into those structures and they give little consideration to the primacy and importance of the club when considering alternatives."

Of course, it's not commentators who block all serious club action for weeks -- indeed sometimes for months -- in order to facilitate county teams. Nor is it commentators who devise fixture schedules which regularly attract criticism from players and managers.

He also pointed out that "progress in the provincial championship is effectively a determinant of the stage at which a given county will enter the All-Ireland championship."

That's not the case for everybody and is, in fact, one of the great inequalities in the system.

For example, the luck of the draw presented Leitrim with a bye to the Connacht football semi-final this year, while Galway will hardly be troubled by their passage to the last four since they play New York in the first round. In Munster, Cork and Limerick advance directly to the semi-finals.

Meanwhile, in Leinster, Carlow, Wicklow, Louth, Meath, Longford and Offaly would have to win two games to reach the semi-final, a challenge which also awaits Armagh or Derry in Ulster.

Having marched unimpeded (except for Galway's minor challenge from New York) into the provincial semi-finals, the advantage continues for Galway, Leitrim, Cork and Limerick if they lose at that stage as they will enter the qualifiers in Round 2, whereas all provincial preliminary and quarter-final losers head for Round 1. Effectively, that's a clear plus for Connacht and Munster counties over their Ulster and Leinster counterparts.

Duffy points out that the provincial championships continue to attract bigger crowds than the All-Ireland qualifiers and attributes it to a deep-seated interest in local rivalry. Indeed, the GAA's private research shows that it is a significant factor in attracting people to games. Given the scientific evidence to support that, it has to be taken into account in any attempt to redraft the championship format.

Duffy also queries how those who criticise the provincial championship system can advocate replacing it with a 'Champions League' format, since that would further dilute the knock-out spirit. Again, it's a fair point.

In theory, breaking the country into eight groups of four in football (London to replace Kilkenny) looks sensible, but there's a risk that it would lead to several meaningless matches in some groups which, inevitably, would have vastly different standards.

That was very much the case when the hurling championships had a round-robin format where it was often clear before the start who would qualify for the next round and who would be heavily beaten.

Having knocked any suggestion to scrap the provincial system and buried the 'Champions League' proposal, Duffy insists that the current format, complete with provincial and All-Ireland qualifier link-up, is the best of the available options.

He headed the committee which originally proposed the All-Ireland qualifiers in late 2000 and, in fairness they have brought a big improvement on the 'provinces-only' method of advancing in the All-Ireland series.

However, since the qualifiers are based on the stage at which counties are eliminated from the provinces, they carry all the imperfections of a system which caters for areas with varying numbers of counties.

Irish Independent

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