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Wheels falling off provincial championship

THE GAA's provincial championship format may be a cherished antiquity but it's a faintly ridiculous one too.

A bit like that three-wheeled Reliant Regal made famous by 'Only Fools And Horses', this lopsided fixture-vehicle just doesn't seem right to those of us who favour the Germanic approach of structure, order and balance.

All of which may explain why, a bit like Del Boy's miraculously propelled vehicle, it can take you two-and-a-half months to complete the seemingly straight-forward trip from A to B.

We raise this annual bugbear now to coincide with Mayo's opening foray into Championship 2012. James Horan admitted this week that the long wait to face Leitrim has been "boring" for his squad.

We'll hazard a guess that it was equally boring for Mayo fans forced to fill the interminable gap watching Trap's version of 'anti-football' in Poland.

On Sunday, eight weeks will have passed since their Division One final defeat to Cork. If they hadn't reached the league play-offs, we'd be talking 11 weeks.

That's how long it took to play off six matches in last year's Connacht SFC. Some counties, notably those back-door junkies from Kildare, have been known to play six matches in half that time, once the qualifier madness kicks off.


In the interests of four-wheeled balance, we should acknowledge that fixture-makers out west have magically compressed this year's championship into ten weeks, and also that their journey from A to B starts in far-flung New York every May. Still, the perverse fact remains that Mayo's first game comes seven weeks after Sligo started the ball rolling in Gaelic Park on May 6.

There is, of course, nothing new in this state of occasional play. All four provincial councils arrange their fixtures as part of a national master plan aimed at maximising exposure through the summer months. But, but, but ... it still ain't right. In fact, arguably the biggest problem is not the lopsided fixture schedule but the growing imbalance these fixtures throw up.

Once upon a time, Leitrim could dream of toppling Mayo. As the strong get stronger and the weak wonder if trying to keep up is worth all the blood, sweat and lack of beers thus entailed, results such as that historic Connacht final become less and less likely.

Okay, so Carlow drew with Meath; but you didn't need a replay rout to realise Luke Dempsey's men cannot dream of winning Leinster.

Ditto with Offaly who were never going to trouble Kildare. This week's Tullamore Tribune described how Sunday's 13-point defeat was greeted "not only with acceptance but also a measure of satisfaction rather than the 'lynch mobs' that would normally meet such a result at the hands of long-time inferiors."

Surely Carlow, the Faithful and many of their ilk, would be better off competing for a properly balanced second-tier championship -- with the carrot of annual promotion for the winners and the stick of relegation for the top-flight also-rans?

Given the pull of tradition, however, even Del Boy couldn't sell that one...