Friday 22 November 2019

Champions League format required to solve back door failings

More needs to be done by and for the weaker counties go improve their lot, says Páidí ó Sé

Paidi O Se

R ECENTLY I was in Tinryland, Co Carlow, in conjunction with the John Murray radio show, and the structures which are in place in that little club are unbelievable. They have a fully-lit pitch, which can host championship matches, a gym, handball alley and facilities that are second to none, plus great organisers in charge of the underage teams.

The question that struck me was: where is the light at the end of the tunnel, when are we going to see evidence of all this great work? The reason we don't see it at inter-county level is partly psychological and partly because too many edges have been knocked off the county team.

Just because the leading teams use a short handpassing game doesn't mean it will work for a weaker county. Too many of them are imitating the leading counties.

For instance, how many club teams try to imitate the style that Tyrone has perfected? It's a skill which Mickey Harte has brought to the highest level -- going forward in droves and defending in packs. Much about the way they play has proved a nightmare for others, including my own county, to counteract.

A lot of counties who don't have the personnel to play that sort of game insist on doing so when they should be playing a more simple game that is more suited to their players.

A lot of these teams put a major emphasis on fitness, while there are only two excellent teams in the country at present who don't neglect skill levels -- Tyrone and Kerry. What other counties have forwards who can kick scores from 30 and 40 yards, or players who kick a pass 30 yards into a team-mate's chest or players who catch the high ball?

A lot of counties don't have those skills because they neglect them. Too many of them are intent on the short handpassing game and how to counteract it. Cork, for instance, nearly didn't win the All-Ireland last year because they didn't want to kick the ball in to their inside forwards.

The provincial championships start today with Donegal playing Antrim, but the sad fact is that the gloss has been taken off the provincial title ever since the back door system came in. I have found in Kerry that attendances have fallen off for provincial finals, for two reasons -- live TV and the fact that defeat is no longer the end of the road. The latter has taken away from the great honour of winning a provincial title.

I have seen how much it meant in Westmeath when they won the Leinster title. It was a very big day out, especially as it was their first, but that same gloss is no longer attached to the Munster final.

The back door was brought in to give teams an extra game, but now it is giving more of an advantage to the stronger teams. Maybe a Champions League format is the answer.

As it is, it's a foregone conclusion that Kerry and Cork are going to play each other in the Munster final. For the other Munster counties, it's in the lap of the gods.

Clare's next game could be Tyrone, and that would be a case of lights out. If they drew, say, Antrim or Leitrim they would have a realistic chance -- and I would like to see more of that on a Champions League style format.

Of all the provincial championships, Ulster is the most competitive, but, apart from Tyrone, the teams that make the breakthrough never seem to crack the national system. Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan, even Armagh, played four or five semi-finals before they won one.

When you think about it, they should have a much better team when they get to Croke Park having had so many competitive matches in Ulster, but it hasn't worked out that way, with the exception of Tyrone.

That is one of the riddles Jimmy McGuinness might have to apply himself to if he leads Donegal out of Ulster this year.

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