Eugene McGee: O'Byrne revamp could shine light on game's future
The O'Byrne Cup has a long and honourable place in Leinster football history. Originally, it was staged to raise funds for injured players. I remember over 7,000 at a final between Dublin and Offaly in the 1980s and many a county, including Longford, got the impetus for a successful Leinster campaign from having won the O'Byrne Cup.
The competition never had a sponsor, but that will be rectified today when Bord na Mona will attach their name and prestige to the O'Byrne Cup. The tournament has got a new lease of life in recent years because there is no inter-county football from the previous September and the fans and players are frothing at the mouth to start getting involved by January.
A batch of third-level colleges take part in the O'Byrne Cup now, which means more games for the counties, but it is still played on a knockout basis. I hear, however, that the Leinster Council chairman Martin Skelly might be coming up with a new format as early as next year.
Because there are 16 teams in the O'Byrne Cup nowadays, it is an ideal time for change. The most obvious alternative is the one based on the Champions League in soccer, which would provide four groups of four -- giving every team at least three games.
I am sure the team managers would be quite happy to play two games a week if required in order to augment their own preparations for the league. This seems on the surface to be a simple little experiment that would appeal to many GAA people. But beware, the GAA is not in the business of making things simple.
Straight away there will be objectors who will see the proposed new format as a dry run for remoulding the present provincial championships into a Champions League format. Hackles will be raised by traditionalists and those who genuinely believe that the provincial system is too precious to be thrown in the scrapheap.
But any experiment is no more than that and it is hard to see Leinster GAA officials not going ahead with a new format if proposed. It would certainly bring in a lot more money than the present system.
The Ulster Council run their McKenna Cup on somewhat similar lines, which has been working very well in recent years. There is an ever-increasing demand from fans for scrapping the provincial championships and trying new formats, but it is doubtful if the provincial councils are ready for such a drastic step. However, a few years of the proposed new Leinster system might help to change people's minds -- either way.