Monday 24 April 2017

Keith Barr: GAA must blow dead ducks out of water

Keith Barr

SO, how long is it going to be before the GAA stands up to provincial councils and tells them that their football competitions are dead ducks? Kerry could now reach an All-Ireland final having beaten no one outside of Munster.

Dublin face the ridiculous situation where they'll have played no competitive football for nearly a month and will play a team freewheeling with momentum -- as Dublin were themselves last year.

Kerry apparently haven't been able to organise any decent friendlies; teams are either broken up for the summer or don't fancy showing their hand to the Kingdom.

Why should we need friendlies? How much more proof do we need that sides benefit from regular competitive games?

Kieran McGeeney mentioned it during the week that, in comparison to other top-level sports, we actually play very few competitive games.

And we just can't escape the fact that even the quarter-finals might now be losing a bit of their lustre.

The Ulster championship started with a whimper when Donegal beat Antrim on May 15 and didn't conclude until July 17. Why does it take nine weeks -- half the season -- to run off the Ulster championship?

The structure is no longer serving the teams or the supporters properly. Don't misunderstand me, we have a great product. There are well prepared teams, there have been good games and good attendances, but the set-up has long passed its sell-by date.

The yardstick for judging the success of a competitive structure has to include more than just a numbers game.

Saturday night qualifier games -- outside of the provincial shackles -- have been the most attractive to date and a new structure would guarantee more of these.

Calling for change is not being disrespectful to the competitions that have served us so well in the past or the councils that have run them. It is just a recognition that we have to harness the full potential of our games and this should not be held back by GAA politics. Rant over.

The Kildare-Donegal clash is by far the most interesting of the weekend's games.

Limerick, Roscommon and Mayo will argue that they are being written off unfairly, but it is impossible to see any upsets in these games; their three opponents -- Kerry, Tyrone and Cork -- have shared the last eight All-Irelands between them.

However, the Kildare-Donegal game is a hard one to call. Both teams have proven a tough nut to crack, are well drilled and unlikely to yield at any point during the game.

Never a big fan of defensive football, it is easy to understand exactly why Jim McGuinness has set his stall out the way he has this season.

Donegal were particularly flaky in recent years, but now, Ulster champions and promoted to Division 1, they are transformed and look like a side no one would fancy playing.

They withstood 20 minutes of a serious Tyrone onslaught only to grind down Mickey Harte's side in the Ulster semi-final.

Similar in style to Kildare, this looks like being a war of attrition that will be won by whichever side can convert their limited chances. However, Kildare are now four years working on their system and that experience will be crucial.

They also have built up good momentum going into the contest. The partnership of James Kavanagh and Tomas O'Connor was very impressive the last day against Derry and I don't think we can ignore that form, even though it was against beaten provincial finalists.

Donegal could be a bit vulnerable after ending their drought in Ulster, while we have witnessed Kildare's hunger first hand since their setback against Dublin last month. I expect McGeeney to steer them into another semi-final.

In tomorrow's final qualifier, I simply can't look beyond Tyrone. For some time I have believed that, despite their experience and pedigree, they were a team in decline, but they are absolutely flying at the moment and are beginning to look a carbon copy of 2008.

I suppose the ultimate test for where they're at will come tomorrow week -- the contest with Roscommon should only serve to prepare them further for that challenge.

I accept that Roscommon are not as bad as they looked in a rain-soaked Connacht final and that Fergal O'Donnell has done a good job with them.

Also, their experience of being at this stage last year will help. But against a side of multiple All-Ireland winners this looks too big a step-up in class for them.

Limerick have argued, and quite correctly, that they were due a break for all their near misses in recent years, but it doesn't mask the farce that transpired against Wexford in Portaloise last Saturday.

Despite what punters may think, I'm fed up giving out about refs and umpires and bad calls. Like everyone else, all I can hope is that a line is drawn in the sand after the 2011 season and the GAA acts to stop this nonsense.

Take away time-keeping from refs, bring in technology to call scores, get rid of the square ball rule (the revamped rule worked a treat when trialled last year) and anything else they can think of to help officials. Cost cannot be a barrier to fairness and accuracy.

Limerick are probably relishing a chance to put their poor showing against Kerry in the Munster championship to bed, but with the best will in the world, they're not going to beat their neighbours in Croke Park.

This is an ideal fixture for Kerry coming in after the long break and will help them to re-establish their momentum for the semi-final clash on August 21.

Cork obviously face a stiffer test, particularly as their injuries continue to mount, but they looked a class apart against Down and they should pack too much power for Mayo.

While he won't see it this way, a Connacht title and rescuing their Division 1 status is a good return for James Horan in his first season and I expect Mayo to benefit from Sunday's experience against the All-Ireland champions.

However, Cork will need to be guarded. Favourites will always be vulnerable to complacency and Cork are facing a Division 1 side who turned them over during the league and who owe their long-suffering fans a decent performance in Croke Park.

I suspect we might get one, but Cork are simply in a different place to the chasing pack at the moment and will not cough up the chance to put the record straight against Kerry.

Irish Independent

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