Munster decision is bad for football
Return of seeded draw gives Kerry and Cork privileged status, writes Martin Breheny
LAST Thursday night, the Munster Council made a decision which could have a significant impact on the All-Ireland football championships, yet none of the other three provinces had any say in the matter. Neither did Croke Park.
Instead, they all learned via a press release that Munster had decided to put Kerry and Cork in a privileged position by placing them on opposite sides of the championship rather than operate an open draw.
It means that the big two cannot meet until the final. One win against Division 3 (Limerick) and Division 4 (Tipperary, Clare, Waterford) opposition will guarantee Kerry and Cork a place in the Munster final, with the winners qualifying for the All-Ireland quarter-finals, while the losers will be in the last 12 – one win away from the last eight.
Compare that with Ulster, where whoever is drawn in the preliminary round will have to win three games to reach the final in a province comprised of two teams from Division 1, four from Division 2, two from Division 3 and one from Division 4.
Ulster and Connacht operate a straight open draw, while Leinster seed the previous year's semi-finalists into the quarter-finals.
Munster have gone much further, seeding Cork and Kerry directly into the semi-finals where they will play the winners of the quarter-final games involving the other four counties.
It's a system that applied up to the early 1990s when a campaign, in which Clare's Noel Walsh was prominent, resulted in the introduction of the open draw.
As luck would have it, Cork and Kerry were drawn against each other in the first year (1991) of the new format, while Limerick reached the final from the other side.
They ran Kerry to two points and, a year later, Clare beat Kerry in the final, taking the title for the first time since 1917.
Pressure has mounted in recent years for the return of the seeded draw on the basis that in seasons when Cork and Kerry are paired in the semi-finals, there is a revenue drop, plus the possibility of a lop-sided final.
The latter actually doesn't stack up. Granted, Cork hammered Clare in the 2012 final, but, prior to that, the so-called weaker counties have done very well against the 'big two' in finals.
Kerry beat Limerick by three points in 2010; Limerick ran Cork to a point in 2009; Limerick took Kerry to a replay in 2004, having lost to them by five points in 2003; Tipperary took Cork to a replay in 2002.
That's five times in eight years when Limerick and Tipperary were very competitive in Munster finals.
Quite why Limerick and Waterford supported the proposal to effectively bestow even more privileges on Cork and Kerry at Thursday night's meeting is a mystery.
Still, that's their business and, no doubt, Munster will argue that the same applies to how they run their championships.
That may well have been the case in the pre-qualifier days when each province qualified one county for the All-Ireland semi-finals.
However, that's no longer the situation, so how each province runs its championship impacts on the wider All-Ireland scene.
Munster have unilaterally decided to make it easier for Cork and Kerry to reach the last eight, or 12, in the All-Ireland race next year.
An open draw would have created the possibility of them being on the same side, which means that the losers would enter the qualifiers in round two as opposed to round four.
Surely, anything that's relevant to the All-Ireland scene, as opposed to the specific interests of a province, should require discussion by Central Council.
Instead, Munster have handed two of the strongest footballing counties in the country the means to reach an advanced stage of the All-Ireland race, safe in the knowledge that they can't meet each other before the provincial final.
That's unfair on counties in the other provinces and is a matter which the GAA's management committee should examine before the draw is made for next year's championships.