Friday 28 April 2017

What's been lacking is a debate on way forward

The big winners are clearly the television companies, who will be the GAA’s media partners when the new deal begins in 2017. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
The big winners are clearly the television companies, who will be the GAA’s media partners when the new deal begins in 2017. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
John Greene

John Greene

The proposed restructuring of the football championship brought to mind the old joke about the tourist who gets hopelessly lost in rural Ireland and asks a local for directions to Dublin. "Well, I wouldn't start from here," comes the reply.

By repackaging the last eight into a round-robin format, with two groups of four teams, the GAA is starting entirely from the wrong place in an attempt to fix a championship which is no longer fit for purpose. So the question then becomes the age-old one: Cui Bono? Who benefits?

The big winners are clearly the television companies, who will be the GAA's media partners when the new deal begins in 2017. A beefed-up last eight - with eight extra matches, all of which will undoubtedly be broadcast live - is manna from heaven to them, especially as it will feature all the big guns of the GAA, given that the system is continually being refined to weed out the poor and downtrodden before that stage is reached.

The other big winners are Dublin, Kerry, Cork, Tyrone, Mayo and those other counties who can consistently make a push to reach the last eight. Their dominance of Gaelic football will be complete in this new system. A brash newcomer might beat one of the superpowers once in a knock-out game - as Tipperary have so thrillingly shown this year - but in a three-game series, what chance would they really have?

The final winners, of course, are the four provincial councils, which is where the real problem begins. Or rather, the four provincial championships. I have personal experience of the good work provincial councils are engaged in, but the time has come to separate that good work from the fact that the outdated structure of the provincial championships is holding the entire GAA - and the entire GAA is something which extends far beyond the Championship - to ransom.

Clubs, counties and even the national association are powerless in the face of their resistance to overhauling the present outdated and unfair system. It was interesting to hear former Donegal footballer Brendan Deveney say on Newstalk's Off The Ball last week that the Ulster Championship remains a true championship and that he would hate to see it disappear, but that if it had to be sacrificed for the greater good of the GAA, then so be it. This is the kind of thinking that's now required.

Who are the losers? Well, pretty much everybody else. The 20-plus counties with no immediate prospects of improving their lot; the clubs and their players; and the rank and file members who go on about their business in the grassroots on a daily basis because they believe in an idea which seems further and further removed from the top end of the association.

What has been lacking so far is a genuine debate on what the best way forward for the GAA is, and this is much more than how the football and hurling championships are structured. Both are in need of change, but so are a good many other things. Let's start at the beginning, and at least set off on the journey from the right place.

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