Monday 24 October 2016

GAA time lags – why we must stop this madness now

Published 25/07/2016 | 08:37

Sean Cavanagh attempts to break through the massed ranks of the Donegal defence. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Sean Cavanagh attempts to break through the massed ranks of the Donegal defence. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ssh . . . whisper this gently but could it be that something called radical thinking is stirring in the previously dormant undergrowth of the GAA?

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Now, I know this sounds a bit crazy and will shock a lot of readers but just think of what has happened in the past couple of weeks with regard to the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, set in stone as it has been for a century or more.

In recent weeks an astonishing seven matches played by Division 1 teams, the GAA’s Premiership, have been lost to counties of lesser divisions and four of those results have led to elimination from the Sam Maguire race. Longford, from Division 3 this year and Division 4 last year, dispatched Down and Monaghan while Tipperary footballers from Division 3 disposed of Cork and Roscommon.


Gary Sice is congratulated by Galway manager Kevin Walsh after being substituted in the closing stages of the Connacht SFC final replay

Galway, from Division 2, beat All-Ireland contenders Mayo from Division 1 in the provincial semi-final and Clare, from Division 3 this year, ended the hopes of Roscommon on Saturday.

Tyrone, from Division 2 this year, beat Division 1 side Donegal last week.

Only Kerry and Dublin from Division 1 have avoided defeat in this year’s Championship so far and we still have not reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Some of these results, most notably those of Clare and Tipperary on Saturday, are sure to have alerted many GAA people to the possibility that at least that if the Championship was constructed in a different way to the present one there could be major developments at inter-county level in the future.

And before the die-hard traditionalists who control the GAA through the provincial councils start oiling up their weapons for a full-frontal assault on any even remote change, let us assume that the provincial championships simply stay as they are for now.

That still leaves a lot of scope for a major revamp of the All-Ireland race.

The only way the Championship can be adjusted is by stages, and gentle ones at that. Remember, once the four provincial finals are over the four councils have absolutely no say in how the All-Ireland is played off – Croke Park take over instead.

That is very important because it is at that stage that radical movement could take place. For example, the Qualifiers, when they started, represented a major change after 116 years and this year’s results have opened a lot of GAA people’s eyes about more possible changes.

For example, there are 24 teams remaining after the provincial finals if we exclude the eight finalists.

Within that cohort of teams there is ample scope for a variety of competitions among the 24 to play off to meet the eight finalists.

With these remaining 16 counties there are also several ways to reduce 16 to eight which would provide the straight knock-out quarter-finals and semi-finals that we have now.

What this year has shown is that there are many progressive, organised, well-coached county teams that would definitely make progress if they could play more often in June and July. In 2016, for instance, Longford had a gap of six weeks after the League finished and a further gap of five weeks after they lost to Offaly in the first round of the Leinster Championship. That meant one game in 11 weeks which is plainly ridiculous, costly and ruinous to club games.

In recent years every Tom, Dick and Harry, along with their mothers and sisters, have come up with proposals for changing the All-Ireland Championship. The majority are predicated on abolishing the provincial championships. That is simply not going to happen for many years yet.

But even leaving out provincial championships there are plenty of mechanisms to make major changes once the provincial finals are over and that should be the basis for any radical change. Change in the GAA has to come in small stages otherwise the legislators panic and scream: “Leave well enough alone” which has worked for years.

The point is what took place this summer shows how inter-county football could blossom to new heights if counties got the opportunity to play more quality games in the summer.

The constant refrain of course will be that there is no time to play more games, which is nonsense. Why is the Ulster Championship played on the basis of one game per week?

How many games could Longford have played in that 11-week space this year?

And county players have no problem playing big games on successive weekends – after all, several counties have played three, and some four, Championship games in as many weeks this year.

 If the will is there to make change it will take place. Ask the Tipperary and Clare footballers what they think of a busy schedule this year.

But beware the GAA undergrowth section. That’s where the die-hards are based and like any undergrowth animal, they can be extremely hard to dislodge. But it is surely worth a go when we consider the exciting and dramatic events of last Saturday.

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