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A blueprint for some fundamental change

I have always maintained that there is something fundamentally wrong with the inter-county schedule and it is something that the GAA needs to look at if they are serious about developing the games in the weaker counties.

Cork, of course, will be quite happy with the present system as they continue to celebrate a season to remember, making it to the last day of the season, but they now face a five-month break before they play a "competitive" game, which is incredible in itself.

It is, of course, a lot worse for the majority of the teams as some will be looking at a massive eight months or thereabouts and it is doubtful whether the new championship format introduced 10 seasons ago has done anything for the weaker teams.

Some will point to the likes of Sligo, Fermanagh and Wexford, who have had their moments, but they are the exception rather than the rule and it is obvious that the format needs to be tweaked again to inject new life into what is becoming a stale competition.



Disadvantage

The provincial championships no longer generate the same excitement and more and more managers are complaining that winning their province puts them at a disadvantage going into the more important All-Ireland series.

This year, all four provincial winners fell at the next hurdle -- including heavyweights Kerry and Tyrone -- so it is becoming less important to win what was a very important competition just a few short years ago.

Dublin, who won five Leinster titles in succession lost out this year to Meath in the semi-final but regrouped, got some valuable game time and were able to build momentum, which took them to a semi-final and within a couple of minutes of the final itself.

They will be quite happy to take a similar route next season as would Cork who also found a way through the qualifiers having lost to Kerry in the Munster Championship. Although they were far from impressive at any stage of the All-Ireland series they still managed to win the games and are top of the pile, for now at least.

Down were also beaten in Ulster, but like Cork and Dublin embraced the qualifiers and will go into next year's championship with renewed confidence. The respective managers wouldn't be too worried if they were dumped out of their respective provincial competitions next season because they know all too well that winning it is no longer a means to an end.

That is the mindset of most of the top managers, despite what they might say publicly, which seriously devalues the once great competition, so it is now time to seriously consider an alternative. For this columnist, at least, it has to be a champion's league format.

That would mean scrapping the provincial competition entirely and setting up groups made up of at least four teams in each. The idea would be for each team to play six group matches on a home and away basis, which would certainly create some interesting ties.

The eight quarter-finalists this season would be seeded and then there would be an open draw for the groups. The championship needs something new and the fact that the format was changed 10 years ago should be encouragement enough to change it again.

The GAA are quite willing to mess around with the rules from season to season so why not change the format on a two-year trial period to see the effects. Consider Dublin travelling to Kingspan Breffni Park to play Cavan in a crunch group match and what that would do for the town and the local supporters.

Kerry travelling to Drogheda or Tyrone heading to Newbridge for a group deciding game. The championship in its present format is totally outdated and has always favoured the stronger teams and that will continue to be the case as long as that stays the same.

Opposed to such a change would be the provincial councils, but change isn't always a bad thing and it would be worth having a serious look at a change.

The group format would give all the teams at least six games, which could only help with the development of football in the county.

As it is, too many teams are gone before they know it and are without football for horrifically long periods and that cannot be a good thing. Okay, so a new format might not mean a Sligo or a Westmeath winning an all-Ireland but it would give supporters a chance to get a good look at their team playing in a lot of serious games.

Having said all that, there were some very enjoyable games in this year's competition including the final itself and there is no doubt that Cork deserved to be champions.

It was a struggle for them at times but they had enough class and self belief to get them over the line.

They have been knocking on the door for a few seasons, but with Kerry going out at the quarter-final stage they knew that they could live with any other team. In the end it took some sublime football in the second half to get the better of Down and they will now believe that they can win maybe one more.



Anxious

Next year's championship won't be any easier to win as Kerry and Tyrone will be anxious to get back to the top table, Mayo and Galway are under new management, and Kildare and Meath will be looking to improve, with the Dubs looking to go one step further.

It was a decent year for Dublin but could have been so much better. That semi-final will haunt the lads for some time to come, but if anything they should take encouragement from the season that started off so poorly.

The draw for the provincial championships will be made in a couple of weeks' time but most of the top managers will be taking very little notice as they will no doubt be preparing their teams for the All-Ireland series rather than the provincial assault.

Dublin senior ladies won their All-Ireland yesterday and in some style too.

It was a performance of the highest quality with some wonderful football played throughout. Congratulations to Siobhain McGrath and the squad on a well deserved victory.

No doubt the party will continue for some time to come.


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