Eugene McGee: In a League of its own - despite some counties' best efforts
Published 21/03/2016 | 02:30
This has been one of the most interesting National Football League series that I have seen for many years with some wonderful exciting games, unexpected results, the usual unsporting melees, and many exciting new players at this level.
The crowds have been very impressive for so early in the season despite more than our share of unfavourable weather.
All of this is extraordinary considering the manner in which this competition is regarded by many GAA officials and team managers and even some players.
What never seems to dawn on the majority of counties is that the League is for them by far the most important competition in the GAA, and not the Championship as so many seem to assume.
In the League every county is assured of seven games played over a period of 10 weeks with a two-week and one-week break in that period.
In the Championship, on the other hand, 16 counties will only play two games, one in the province and one in the qualifiers. And in most cases it will take up to ten weeks to play those two games, with several teams playing their first game in mid-May.
So from July to December half the counties will not wear their county jersey at all until the Mickey Mouse competitions start in January the following year.
The continuity of the league is the most important aspect as players will know three months in advance when they are playing those seven games and against which counties.
In GAA fixture-making terms nowadays that must be regarded as a miracle!
Yet we still hear the constant whingeing that the League is not really important and the Championship is all that matters.
For those 16 counties that is certainly not the case and it amazes me why so many counties are so dismissive on the League when really it is the bread and butter of intercounty competition for the vast majority of them.
But then the National League has always been regarded as not very important by some sections of the GAA.
Apart from minimal publicity from sponsors around Ireland, the GAA as a national body spends little promoting League games. I cannot recall advertisements for any National League game in even local newspapers never mind the national media.
In recent years television coverage from Setanta and TG4 has helped, but that is confined to the leading counties.
Where is any media promotion for Longford, Leitrim, Waterford, Wicklow or Carlow teams for League games? And it is those and similar counties that need it most.
Improving the profile of the bottom 16 or so counties should be a top priority but that is not the case, even though it must be said that such counties often do nothing to help themselves in this regard.
By contrast, the leading counties get saturation coverage for League games on television, with Dublin having most of their games shown live. What many counties seem to forget is that there is big money in League games, with a crowd of 5,000 bringing in around €100,000.
There used to be a rule of thumb that League receipts were split three ways between the two counties and the national pool which is divided among all 32 counties at the conclusion of the League.
Mayo have had two attendances of over 10,000 at recent League games, while Dublin have often doubled that this year.
Apart from expenses paid for Championship games, League money is the only major funding dispersed in relation to actual games but many counties do not seem to very interested in promoting their own League games, which is strange as they are always complaining about lack of finance.
Over the next few weeks we will see clearly how important the League actually is as the final two rounds take place. Counties seeking promotion and others avoiding relegation will mean great excitement and large crowds.
With a bit more effort from every county board and insistence that full-strength teams are played throughout the competition, the entire National League could be far more important, interesting and financially lucrative for Gaelic football.