One-sided games a blight on 2015 season
Big winning margins becoming norm in football championships
Published 15/08/2015 | 02:30
This year's All-Ireland football championship has been the least competitive since the introduction of the qualifier system in 2001.
That unwelcome reality places a big responsibility on the four semi-finalists - Kerry, Tyrone, Dublin and Mayo to rescue what has been a largely disappointing campaign.
The average winning margin for the 59 championship games played so far is nine points, with no fewer than 35 games won by more than six points.
It's a worrying trend, not least because it extended to the All-Ireland quarter-finals over the last two weekends, when the average winning margin for the four games was 11.8 points.
That's five points higher than last year and while it was exaggerated by the freakish 7-16 to 0-10 win for Kerry over Kildare, two other quarter-finals were won easily too.
Dublin finished eight points clear of Fermanagh, while appearing to be only in third gear, while Mayo also had eight points to spare over Donegal.
That leaves the Tyrone-Monaghan game - which Mickey Harte's men won by four points - as the only really competitive quarter-final.
Unfortunately, it will be remembered for different reasons, as an unsavoury finish highlighted the blacker arts of negativity in Croke Park last Saturday.
It's alarming that three of four quarter-finals, which pit four provincial champions against the best of the rest, should be won easily, but then it's a trend that has been on the increase for quite some time.
The average winning margin for quarter-finals over the last five seasons was 7.5 points, compared with 5.5 for the previous five years.
There has also been an increase in the average winning margin in the qualifiers, increasing from 5.3 points in 2006-2010 to 7.1 in 2011-2015.
Leinster had the highest winning margin average of the four provinces this year, coming in at 11.8 points.
Despite the proliferation of one-sided games, crowds have held solid, but there has to be concern among the GAA authorities that if the uneven trend continues, the public will becomes much more selective about the games they attend.
It's certainly an issue in Leinster where the opposition to Dublin is so weak that Jim Gavin can target the fitness regime to achieve maximum return from early August on.
Dublin's ascendancy in Leinster is by no means the only challenge for the GAA. The facts show that winning margins are widening elsewhere too, with the exception of Ulster, which remains consistently competitive.
The average winning margin for all games in the 2005-06-07 seasons was 5.4 points, compared with 11.3 over the two most recent campaigns.
Dublin beat Longford, Kildare and Westmeath by a combined total of 59 points this year, maintaining a dominance in the province that's now close to tyranny. The decline of Meath, Kildare, Laois and Offaly is a major issue for Leinster as that quartet would always have been regarded as Dublin's biggest rivals.
Meath head the list, but have dropped back at an alarming rate over the last decade. Their 2010 Leinster title success took fluke to new heights, as was shown in the All-Ireland quarter-final when they lost to Kildare. Since then, Meath have done nothing to suggest that a major surge is imminent. Indeed, if anything, the Royals have declined.
Kildare's win over Cork last month raised a flicker of hope that the Lilywhites had stabilised after losing to Dublin by 19 points, but the warm glow didn't last very long before Kerry humiliated them with a 27-point win in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
The big question is why Meath and Kildare have fallen so far behind Dublin. Granted, it's a time of plenty in Dublin, but past Meath and Kildare teams would have risen to the challenge, whereas the present generation are drifting further into oblivion.
Just as Dublin have Leinster locked in a vice-like grip, Mayo are enjoying their best ever run in Connacht. There's no doubt that they have an excellent crop, albeit one that still hasn't managed to end the All-Ireland drought, but their control out west has been made much easier by Galway's decline.
As with Meath and Kildare in Leinster, Galway's standard has dropped alarmingly since the glory days of 1998-2001 when they won two of four All-Ireland titles and reached another final, losing to Kerry in a replay.
The Galway team of that era would have had some epic battles with the current Mayo outfit if they were around at the same time. Instead, Mayo have beaten Galway in their last five championship games, the last four by margins ranging from four to 17 points.
The more optimistic wing of the Galway support believes that considerable progress was made this year, but only time will tell. The reality is that if Galway are drawn against Mayo next year, they will start at 2/1 (or higher) outsiders.
Roscommon's season took a series of disappointing turns after they won promotion to Division 1, while Sligo's 6-25 to 2-11 defeat by Mayo in the Connacht final underlined the state of the competitive relationship between those counties.
It remains the competitive jewel in the provincial crown. The average winning margin per game for the last four seasons is 4.5 points, by far the lowest in any of the provinces.
The average for the past 10 season is 4.3, underlining the evenness of the standard, by comparison with elsewhere. Armagh, Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan have all won Ulster titles in that period, while Down, Derry, Antrim and Fermanagh have all reached finals. Cavan have been outside the Ulster final loop since losing to Tyrone in 2001.
Ulster have every reason to be satisfied with their championship, a reality reflected in attendance figures which increased substantially in each of the last five years.
There have always been wild fluctuations in the average winning margin, depending on the level of opposition that Clare, Tipperary, Waterford and Limerick offer Kerry and Cork. Tipp ran Kerry to six points this year, while Clare lost to Cork by 12 points.
There was a marked increase in the average winning margin this year, zooming to 8.7 points per game, the highest in qualifier history.
Clearly, that's a matter for concern, since it suggests that even when counties leave their own provinces - as is the case for most qualifier games - competitive levels are dropping.
Eight of this year's 24 qualifiers were won by margins of 10 points or more while only six had margins of three or less points.
The average winning margin in the qualifiers over the last three seasons was 7.6 points, compared with 4.9 in 2005-06-07.
The pattern is similar to the qualifiers, with the average winning margin increasing in recent years. That's despite two of last year's quarter-finals producing one-point wins for Mayo and Donegal. However, that was offset by easy wins for Dublin and Kerry.
The average winning margin over the last three seasons is eight points, compared with five points in 2005-06-07 and 5.9 in 2008-09-10.
Dublin, Kerry, Mayo top the big winners list
Kerry and Dublin recorded the biggest wins of this year's football championship, followed by Mayo and Tipperary.
Dublin beat Longford by 27 points (4-25 to 0-10) in the Leinster quarter-final, while Kerry also had 27 points to spare (7-16 to 0-10) when demolishing Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
It was Kildare's second trouncing, having lost by 19 points (5-18 to 0-14) in the Leinster quarter-final, leaving them with an embarrassing double defeat by a total of 46 points.
Not to be outdone by the two top-rated All-Ireland contenders, third favourites, Mayo got in on the high-scoring act in the Connacht final, beating Sligo by 26 points (6-25 to 2-11) to complete the provincial five-in-a-row.
Tipperary's season ended with a 12-point defeat by Tyrone in the All-Ireland qualifiers, but they earlier recorded big wins over Louth (3-21 to 0-7) and Waterford (1-24 to 0-5).
Dublin had a total of 59 points to spare over Longford, Kildare and Westmeath, an increase of 16 on their wins over Laois, Wexford and Meath last year. No Leinster opposition has run Dublin closer than seven points in the last three seasons.
The number of big wins in the qualifiers was higher than usual.
Kildare beat Longford by 19 points, having earlier beaten Laois by 13 points in the Leinster quarter-final replay.
Fermanagh finished 13 points clear of Antrim in the qualifiers, having earlier been beaten by 10 points in the Ulster quarter-final. Peter McGrath's men also saw off Westmeath by nine points.
Galway did well for three-quarters of the qualifier clash with Donegal before collapsing to a 10-point defeat, while Derry finished nine points clear of Wexford.