Sunday 4 December 2016

Martin Breheny: GPA plan has too many flaws

Published 15/07/2015 | 02:30

Tipperary’s Ger Mulhair has his effort blocked down by Louth’s Pádraig Rath during Saturday’s qualifier
Tipperary’s Ger Mulhair has his effort blocked down by Louth’s Pádraig Rath during Saturday’s qualifier

This year's football Championship is unusual in that it's attracting almost as much interest for what the public believe it might be in a different world as opposed to what it is in the real world.

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Maybe that's down to a sense that the May-June-July action merely confirms what GAA people know already know, regarding the limited number of contenders for the All-Ireland title.

It's further highlighted by Dublin reinforcing their unbreakable dominance in Leinster, where they reeled off another five-in-a-row last Sunday.

While all this is going on, the clamour for systems change grows, with proposals for new formats emerging all over the place. Even Croke Park has got in on the act, inviting county boards to make submissions.

Louth boss Colin Kelly was crying out for a two-tier Championship after their 23-point defeat to Tipperary, but when were the Premier county elevated to a different orbit to Louth?
Louth boss Colin Kelly was crying out for a two-tier Championship after their 23-point defeat to Tipperary, but when were the Premier county elevated to a different orbit to Louth?

For many, it's a fun exercise, tinkering with structures and devising alternatives, most of which look good on paper. However, most tend to have one basic flaw - they ignore reality.

They may well be ultra-neat and streamlined but that won't alter the unavoidable fact that some counties are stronger than others. In many cases, there's a massive difference. Format adjustments won't change that.

Still, there appears to be a misguided idea that tweaking the system would lead to a balancing of standards. If only it were that simple.

Calls for a two-tier Championship have been growing this summer, the latest coming from Louth manager Colin Kelly after his side's 23-point defeat by Tipperary last Saturday.

"We are crying out for a two-tier championship. Look at the gulf in class. We beat Leitrim by seven points and you come down here (Thurles) and you are beaten by 23 points. It's a mis-match. It's unfair to ask players to go into situations like this where they are playing teams on a different level," he said.

When were Tipp elevated on to a higher orbit than Louth? In fact, Louth would have been long regarded as being ahead of Tipp. Clearly, it's changing now, but Tipp had only two wins more than Louth in Division 3 this year.

Still, Kelly's frustration is understandable, but surely the main source of Louth's problem is that conveyor belt is not delivering enough good players to the senior team.

Other managers in Leinster were in a similar boat this year as they watched Dublin steaming away from them in their luxury liners.

Limerick manager Leo O'Connor rightly queried why the game ended 40 seconds (as per the stadium clock) short of the two extra minutes which were announced
Limerick manager Leo O'Connor rightly queried why the game ended 40 seconds (as per the stadium clock) short of the two extra minutes which were announced

It's not the Championship structure that's letting Dublin's Leinster rivals down, but rather internal failings that have left them with much weaker panels than used to be the case.

That's why changing formats won't solve any problems, unless counties do more to help themselves.

The GPA has entered the Championship structure debate by making a preliminary submission, which centres on a Champions League-style All-Ireland series, eight groups of four teams (one from each division), played off on a round-robin basis.

The eight group winners would be joined in the last 16 by the eight winners of a round involving the counties that finished second and third in each group.

Pre-season competitions would be dropped, with the provincial championships played in April, but having no input to the All-Ireland series.

I see three problems with the plan. One: it involves 48 group games to eliminate eight counties. That's a lot of action to, in the main, get rid of Division 4 counties.

Two: there's a risk of quite a few meaningless games in the group stages. Three: The provincial championships would lose most of their status, effectively becoming the equivalent of the existing pre-season competitions.

Still, it's right that the GPA has put the Champions League format on the agenda so that it become part of the debate. It has been mentioned often enough now there's a chance to discuss it properly. Then ditch it.

U-21 controversy whets the appetite for Tipp-Tyrone clash

The All-Ireland football qualifiers may have their flaws, but, on balance, they are much more in credit than debit.

Apart from ending the ludicrous regime which, prior to 2001, left half the counties with one Championship game per year, they have provided teams with opportunities for advancement which, on several occasions, have been taken.

And then there's the novelty of new Championship pairings, as counties clash for the first time.

Tipperary v Tyrone will become the latest in that category on Saturday. Adding to the intrigue is that it takes Tyrone to the GAA's birthplace in Thurles.

And if that weren't enough to whet appetites, it comes a little over two months after the frothy clash between the counties in the All-Ireland U-21 final in Parnell Park.

Tipperary, who lost by a point, refused to allow Tyrone manager Feargal Logan into their dressing-room afterwards in protest at what they regarded as cynical behaviour by the Red Hand boys.

Tipp manager Tommy Toomey even suggested that his side would need to develop a meaner edge to make progress .

"There's a lot of stuff often goes on in these games that Tipperary have to learn and I think we will over the period," he said.

Nobody could have foreseen then that the counties' paths would intersect so soon again - this time at senior level, with All-Ireland survival at stake.

It's precisely what the qualifiers are all about. Sky Sports cameras will be there to bring the action live. It should be very interesting.

Leave the tweeting to our feathered friends

Limerick's frustration over the amount of stoppage-time played at the end of the Munster minor hurling final against Tipperary last Sunday was understandable, but then it's an issue that arises all the time.

Manager Leo O'Connor rightly queried why the game ended 40 seconds (as per the stadium clock) short of the two extra minutes which were announced

However, the subsequent tweet by Limerick vice-chairman Liam O'Sullivan might have been ill-advised.

"Hard luck to our minors. We must be the guinea pigs for every incompetent balls-up in the GAA. From HawkEye to a guy who can't tell the time!"

What happens the next time a Limerick club has an issue with a referee and/or time-keeping?

Presumably, it will feel entitled to be as insulting and sneering as it likes and, if taken to task, can quote one of the senior county board officers as justification for their outrage.

Truly, there are many times when tweeting is best left to the birds.

Irish Independent

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