Sport Gaelic Football

Sunday 21 January 2018

Martin Breheny: System needs a tweak, not dismantling

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

A fire was quenched in Carrick-on-Shannon last Sunday by a combination of rain, reality and Roscommon, but shortly afterwards in Portlaoise another was lit by a blend of calmness, conviction and Carlow.

Leitrim's defeat was the latest suffered by a county that has lost an average of almost three in four Connacht championship games over the years.

Yet, last Sunday, a crowd of 13,657 attended their encounter against Roscommon for a game which was shown live on RTE. That's around 15pc of the total population of both counties.

Apply the same ratio to the Mayo v Galway clash on Sunday week and the crowd should be over 56,000; in all likelihood it will be less than half that. Apply it to the Dublin v Kildare and Wexford v Carlow Leinster semi-finals and Croke Park would require a capacity of 260,000.

Leitrim v Roscommon attracted a big crowd for two reasons. Leitrim were buoyant after beating Sligo, while Roscommon are in confident mood as they pursue the Connacht two-in-a-row.

The mood in Leitrim had been one of huge optimism. The win over Sligo had re-energised the county and while Roscommon squashed them, Leitrim had three enjoyable weeks when they felt extremely good about themselves.

Carlow are now in the same blissful territory after beating Louth. It may not last beyond Sunday week's clash with Wexford (although they have a good championship record against their neighbours) but, for now, Carlow people are enjoying the view from heights not experienced since 1958, the last time they reached the Leinster semi-final.

Whatever happens from now on, the 2011 championship will be regarded as a success in Carlow. That's what even one win can do for a county and is also the reason why scrapping the provincials and playing the championship in a Champions League-style format would be a serious mistake.

Yes, the system needs to be altered, but not totally dismantled. Christy Cooney's suggestion at Congress -- one advocated by this column for a long time -- that provincial boundaries be tweaked so that each region catered for the same number of counties has considerable merit. It would score on fairness, while also making fixtures schedules far more manageable nationwide.

The heavy defeats sustained by Tipperary, Clare, Waterford and Limerick in Munster have reopened the debate about the provincial football championship, but over-reacting to one series of results is unwise.

After all, Limerick ran Kerry to three points last year and were level with Cork after 70 minutes in a Round 4 qualifier before losing narrowly in extra-time, so they can't be written off after one bad day.

There have also been suggestions that only the top 16 or 20 counties should be allowed compete for the Sam Maguire Cup, in which case neither Leitrim, Carlow nor several others would have been involved this year. Come to think of it, Roscommon, the defending Connacht champions, wouldn't have made it either, based on the top-20 league placings.

There's much that could be done to improve the championship, such as evening up the numbers in each region (province) and streamlining the schedule so that it doesn't take so long to run off. Roscommon had six weeks between the first and second rounds in Connacht, followed by a five-week wait for the final.

Cork and Kerry have a four-week gap between the Munster semi-finals and final.

And how about this? Eight counties will have lost twice and been eliminated from the All-Ireland title race before Galway enter the Connacht championship on Sunday week. That, by the way, is eight weeks after Roscommon played their first game in the same competition.

The problems are obvious, yet where is the will to address them?

Cooney's suggestion to redraw provincial boundaries -- it would only involve moving a few counties -- will probably never get anywhere because of opposition from provincial councils and/or county boards.

There's no need for grandiose schemes such as scrapping the provincials and introducing round-robins, which would probably produce several meaningless games, when a little imagination would greatly improve what's already there.

While that includes continuing to deliver special days for the likes of Carlow and Leitrim, it must be protected. Because, whatever critics of the existing format may say, there's no way that Carlow would be as ecstatic after beating Louth in a round-robin game, no more than Leitrim would be as jubilant after beating Sligo.

Nor would almost 14,000 turn out for a Leitrim v Roscommon round-robin game.

Sure, there are leaks in the system, but there's no need to replace all the piping. The wet patches on the road show where the bursts are!

Sizeable ticket price cuts required

ON Monday night's 'Frontline' programme, four would-be Presidents -- all of whom displayed an overbearing sense of self-regard -- espoused lofty (although they sounded hollow) reasons why they wanted to be in the Aras.

Presumably on the basis that they never even considered it (really?), none mentioned the €300,000 salary and various other generous perks.

Surely the prize will go to whoever makes a substantial salary cut a central plank of their campaign?

It would be a masterstroke, just as the GAA's Central Council can show it's in touch with the people by announcing a sizeable decrease in ticket prices for the All-Ireland qualifiers, quarter-finals and semi-finals next weekend.

A reduction is coming, but it's got to be more than a token cut.

Down lead back-door charge

CAN any of this year's first-round football qualifiers emulate Tyrone 2008?

They won the All-Ireland title from the first round, although there were only three qualifier rounds then as opposed to four now.

Armagh, the 2002 champions, came close to winning the All-Ireland off a four-round qualifier system in 2003 when, after losing to Monaghan in the Ulster preliminary round, they won six games to reach the final. However, they lost narrowly to Tyrone after having Diarmaid Marsden sent off in the wrong (his red card was later rescinded).

Down, 2010 runners-up, look best placed of the 16 first-rounders to make an impression, especially as the draw has been helpful, pitting them against Clare, who lost to Cork by 15 points. There's still quite a degree of support for Down, who are seventh favourites to win the All-Ireland at 28/1.

That's not very flattering to Derry, Armagh (who beat Down a few weeks ago), Mayo and Galway, all of whom still have two chances, yet find themselves behind James McCartan's crew in the betting. Derry and Armagh are both on 33/1 with the western pair on 40/1. Clearly, the markets aren't impressed by any of that quartet.

Irish Independent

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