Martin Breheny: Time to lift siege mentality and end provincial system
Michael Delaney, Leinster Council secretary, posed a question when I arrived in Nowlan Park last Sunday: "How long do you keep those annual reports?"
"For as long as it takes -- you never know what gem you'd find from way back."
He was referring to a piece in last Saturday's paper where we carried negative comments from senior GAA officials -- including Delaney -- about the inter-provincial championships. Space prevented us going back further than 10 years but I reminded him that he had been a critic of the competition long before that.
"Well at least I'm being consistent," he said.
Quite true and, in fairness to him, he has remained consistent on key issues over his long tenure as Leinster's leading administrator. He can also be quite radical, tossing out provocative suggestions which, at the very least, should get GAA people thinking.
That's very much the case in his latest report, where he asks if the provincial council system best fits the modern GAA.
Now, those who would support the immediate closure of the GAA rather than interfere with the provincial councils will regard Delaney's questioning as treachery -- but then there were many who would have burned Croke Park rather than rent it for rugby and soccer, yet that deal worked out pretty well for everybody.
Delaney is not suggesting the disbandment of the provincial councils but wants an honest appraisal of their entire functioning. First up though, is a call for honesty. He makes it while accepting "there is always a danger that those of us at the centre of a unit of the Association can develop a siege mentality and be blinded by an inflated opinion of our own importance to the general good."
In effect, he's asking provincial councils to look at who, and what, they are as opposed to who they have conditioned themselves to believe they are. He raises 10 questions about the role of the councils, and while he leaves the answers to other people, he concludes that it's up to everybody to be "open and honest."
Now, how the GAA administers itself might look largely irrelevant to players -- both at club and county level -- and the majority of members, but in reality, it's not. One of the queries raised by Delaney is whether basing the All-Ireland championships on the provincial system is fair.
Of course it's not. Mayo, sixth favourites for this year's All-Ireland football title, can reach the Connacht final (and, by extension, a guaranteed place in the last 12 overall) by winning just one game. To further help them, their opponents, Leitrim, are a Division 4 side and Mayo will have home advantage.
Meanwhile, Cavan would have to beat reigning Ulster champions Donegal, runners-up Derry, plus the winners of Tyrone-Armagh to reach a provincial final. Would Mayo, or anybody else for that matter, fancy that trek?
If Cavan beat Donegal (or vice versa) and lose to Derry they will be in Round 1 of the qualifiers, whereas Round 2 is the earliest Mayo, Cork and Clare can enter the back door because they all receive byes to their provincial semi-finals.
Redrawing boundaries to equally balance the number of counties in each province was mooted by Christy Cooney last April, and now Delaney's querying of the system further increases the need for a national debate on the issue.
Reclassifying the provinces into north, south, east and west, with eight counties in each, makes for a fairer inter-county championship while also improving the lot of the club player, as it would be much easier to devise a streamlined fixtures programme across all competitions.
From an administrative viewpoint, there's a clear logic in balancing the regions too. Why have one provincial council (Leinster) dealing with 12 counties while Connacht caters for only five? In a business -- or indeed sporting -- sense, it's perverse.
It's encouraging that the call for a debate on the efficiency of the current system is coming from within the establishment itself because it has long been argued that any movement for change would be vetoed by the provincial councils on the basis of self-interest.
"Personalities should not dominate the opinions. What I'm asking for is a cold, detached look at the role and relevance of the Leinster Council," writes Delaney in his annual report, which will go before the provincial Convention in Dundalk on Friday night.
No doubt, he wants other provinces to reflect on their own position, with Croke Park (Central Council) hopefully showing an interest too.
This could be a slow burner but the gas has been turned on, which is an encouraging start.
Extra home game to help Louth's cause
LOUTH will always feel that no amount of good fortune can make up for the loss of the 2010 Leinster football title but, nonetheless, every little instalment from the gods helps.
If the decision to force Monaghan to forego home advantage against Louth in their Division 2 clash on March 11 is upheld, Peter Fitzpatrick's crew will enjoy three successive home games, which is quite a boost.
Priced at 4/9 joint-favourites for relegation three weeks ago, Louth took three of four points from their first two games, but are still second favourites (6/5) for the drop. Still, an extra home game should help the cause.