Change to Minor championship just postpones the inevitable
I'M NOT a fan of the second chance for Minor teams in the provincial championships, although the Wexford players and mentors will be very glad to avail of it after the events in Mullingar on Saturday last.
I just feel that it's merely postponing the inevitable, and nine times out of ten all it does is offer one of the stronger counties a chance to atone if they do happen to slip up.
Of course there are exceptions, the most obvious in Leinster occurring in 2010 when Longford were hammered by Offaly early on but returned via the losers' section to beat them when it mattered most on Leinster final day. That was a wonderful achievement for a county not accustomed to much success, but remember what happened next: instead of having an All-Ireland semi-final to look forward to, Longford bowed out to Connacht championship runners-up Galway in the quarter-final, and thus another big gun denied the minnows a second day in the sun.
Under the current system, it is possible for a team to lose in the first round, recover to reach the Leinster final, lose again at that point, but still get a chance to win the ultimate prize by going unbeaten from the All-Ireland quarter-final onwards. Any inter-county system whereby a team can lose twice in its own province and still win the national title is not a good one in my view, but the counter argument is that teams deserve more than one game to justify the high level of preparations.
Give me the cut and thrust of the knockout Under-21 championship any day instead, because teams really have to go for it and the fare is so much more enjoyable as a result. I attended four games in the Leinster series this year: Wexford's two outings as well as Laois v. Offaly and the final between Kildare and Longford.
All of them were compelling, dramatic encounters, with the appeal of the championship really shining through on Wednesday week in Portlaoise when almost 6,000 people attended and the nearest parking spot I could get was almost one mile from O'Moore Park.
I'm planning on being in Tullamore on Saturday for the All-Ireland semi-finals and I have no doubt that the Kildare and Cavan fans in particular will guarantee a wonderful atmosphere in O'Connor Park for their clashes with Galway and Cork respectively.
Let's get back to our Minors though, and look at our recent dismal record. This is the tenth year of the second chance system in Leinster, introduced first in the form a round robin with four groups of three before being modified to the current losers' group system.
Saturday's game was our 24th since 2004 and the record reads: seven wins, two draws and 15 defeats. However, when one takes a closer look, four of those victories were against Kilkenny (2004, 2008, 2009 and 2011), the other three were against Wicklow (2004, 2005 and 2008), while the two draws were against Carlow (2005 and 2012).
For the record, we have lost to nine of the other eleven counties at least once in that spell, with the only exceptions being Kilkenny because everyone beats them, and Laois whom we haven't met over the past decade. We suffered two defeats apiece to Dublin, Wicklow, Longford, Carlow, Kildare and now Westmeath, plus one each to Louth, Offaly and Meath.
So has this system made any difference to the development of Wexford Minor football teams? Clearly not.
Some might speculate that under a straight knockout, given such poor results, the first round hurdle mightn't have been surmounted in any of those years, and it's better to win a game or two instead regardless of the quality of the opposition.
Ten straight losses wouldn't be good, that's for sure, but are seven wins over Kilkenny and Wicklow any better in the long run when defeat inevitably followed? Not in my view although many won't agree.
None of the above is intended as a criticism of the current squad or their mentors by the way, and I sincerely hope they overcome Carlow on Wednesday week. It's the system itself I have issues with, not the people who are trying to utilise it to further Wexford's cause.