Tuesday 6 December 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Longford should be playing teams of a similar level, not wheeled out to be murdered by Dublin

The provincial system destroys progress for about 25 counties, writes Colm O’Rourke

Published 31/05/2015 | 02:30

Jack Sheedy gave loyal service to Dublin, but there are no inside secrets. The Dubs just crush small teams
Jack Sheedy gave loyal service to Dublin, but there are no inside secrets. The Dubs just crush small teams

If a PR company could make the Leinster football championship look anyway interesting they would be worth their weight in gold. Perhaps the Leinster Council should put up a prize and invite companies to come up with ideas on how to market it as a serious competition. The likelihood is that nobody would enter because this provincial championship is a dead duck. It has been so for a long time and it is showing no sign of improvement.

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Nobody can blame Dublin for that. They have kept their standards up. The main reason for Dublin’s monopoly is the demise of Meath. Between 1986 and 2001, Meath won eight Leinster titles and had to beat Dublin in the process most of the time. The championship was one of equals, with Meath having the upper hand. After that Kildare, Westmeath and Laois had their moments, but the real battle for supremacy was between Meath and Dublin. Now it is a distant memory. Meath have slipped, while Dublin hoover up everything, from minor to senior. A very unhealthy situation prevails and it is not going to change any time soon.

In my time involved, I cannot recall much competition in Leinster. At best there have been four serious contenders, despite the fact there are 12 counties. The Leinster championship does not function. It has become a warm-up for Dublin before an All-Ireland quarter-final in August.

Why do weaker counties allow themselves to be cannon fodder year after year?  They spend enormous amounts of money preparing teams to be slaughtered. What purpose does it serve? If some of the elected officials of these counties declared that they were going to end the charade of playing in the provincial championship and play in the qualifiers, I would be the first to congratulate them. Better still, if they said they would withdraw from all championship football until a fair system was put in place, I would congratulate them even louder.

Counties cannot seem to think beyond the straitjacket of the provinces. When I was playing I did not care about the unfairness of it all. It was a mechanism to get to the All-Ireland, and if we could play Kilkenny in the final then all the better. At this remove it is possible to see that most provincial football serves no purpose, while officials on the various provincial councils work hard to hold on to their power. Naturally Ulster say they have a brilliant product, pass the bucket and move on. Munster is brilliant if you are from Kerry, and for the first time in a while there will be a contest in Connacht. So we end up with five bodies to administer one championship.

Some day I believe counties — about 25 of them — will wake up and realise that provincial football actively works to destroy progress. Then there will be a socialist revolution and competitions will be based on equality. If people think this is bonkers they should consider these questions: do they think that the main competition for counties should throw everyone in, irrespective of ability? That some counties have to play more games than others? That the starting dates for all may be different? That some could play all their games at home while others never play in their own ground? Replies on a postage stamp from those who think this is anything but bonkers.

Stephen Cluxton lifts the Allianz league trophy after Dublin's Division 1 victory over Derry last year
Stephen Cluxton lifts the Allianz league trophy after Dublin's Division 1 victory over Derry last year

The first part of the Dublin charade is today. Some Dublin players were wheeled out to the media last week and they talked about the tough game coming up. I don’t think they even smiled in the process. These Dubs are a disciplined bunch.

They even get to play in Croke Park. Since the draw was made there has been a hue and cry about the fact that the Dubs do not have to travel. Well this decision was made by the Leinster Council delegates, not some Dublin dictator. They voted down the prospect of taking the Dubs on the road, so no crocodile tears please. It would be great for Dublin, their supporters and trade in Longford if Dublin were playing in Pearse Park. And if the Dublin hurlers had to go to Galway on another day, then so be it.

Worse still from an attendance point of view is that both games from Croke Park today are live on television, so some Longford supporters will stay at home and a big number of Dublin followers will do the same and save their money for the proper matches to come.

Is it beyond the brains of those making fixtures that they cannot ensure at least one attractive and potentially competitive game on each Sunday at this time of year? There are days coming up when there are a lot of good matches, but today is not one of them.

Longford, with a population of less than 40,000, take on Dublin with over one and a quarter million. Of course David did slay Goliath but that was in a quick shoot-out; he would not have lasted 70 minutes. This is the Longford dilemma. They could play well for three-quarters of the game and end up getting a hammering once the Dublin subs come on. Last year when these same subs came on they ran into hardened warriors in Donegal. Normally they were used to just putting up big scores on opponents who were already demoralised. It gave everyone a false impression of their real worth. That mistake will not be made again.

Longford did very well in  coming from behind against Offaly. Paul Barden is not there anymore but Dermot Brady, Brian Kavanagh, Dessie Reynolds and Mickey Quinn led the charge. In the Division 4 final, Longford got a trimming from Offaly so their victory should be seen in that light.

They are run by Jack Sheedy, who gave loyal service to Dublin, but there are no inside secrets. The Dubs just crush small teams and will do the same today. That, however, should not take from the fact that Longford are a side getting close to maximum from their resources. They should be playing in August and September in Croke Park against teams of a similar level, not getting wheeled out to be murdered by a Dublin team who are playing among themselves for places in the first 25. Longford represent the spirit of the GAA as much as any county; it is circumstances not discipline, organisation or commitment, which prevent  them winning in the current system.

Taking the long-term view on Dublin, I think they have two problems: they lack a target-man up front and a marker at corner back. The first problem may be overcome by a very mobile forward line. The other cost them last year and is not sorted yet. The reason is that the modern footballer for Dublin, and many other counties, is in general a generic type. In other words, he can do nearly everything. The traditional corner back did no more for his club than his county, he probably could not play midfield for his club like his counterpart today, he could not score and never went up-field. But he minded his man, the best forward on the opposition. The Dubs need one of those, a player who does not play much. If they find him against Longford or some day soon, they will be parading in September.

Longford's Paul Barden
Longford's Paul Barden

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