Sunday 17 December 2017

Colm O'Rourke: To 'B' or not to 'B' - it will work if the price is right

Congress has a big call to make regarding the proposal of a Senior ‘B’ Football Championship Photo:Sportsfile
Congress has a big call to make regarding the proposal of a Senior ‘B’ Football Championship Photo:Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

With the GAA, things always turn full circle. In clubs, the officers are turfed out after some secret meeting before the AGM; the manager is told to get lost because the players always think there is someone better; and then within a few years, the same thing happens all over again.

The chairs are switched and most of the old brigade are back. The capacity of some for self-deception knows no bounds. And then, when things go wrong, the key is to blame it all on someone else, as if the club was being run by a group where the membership does not include themselves. These types of people are a rotten influence in every walk of life and the GAA unfortunately has more than its fair share.

Anyway, the wheel has turned full circle on the idea of a 'B' championship and so, after months of deliberation, radical ideas and any amount of submissions, out comes the mouse - a championship for less successful counties, weak counties or any other name you want for them. Except they cannot be told that they are not up to much and a competition to suit them specifically is the best way forward. What is the problem with telling it as it is?

These counties have no chance of winning a provincial championship at the moment, let alone an All-Ireland, yet the pretence continues. What is wrong with giving a county the opportunity to improve from a low base by playing against teams of similar standing? It is the way every club competition in every county is organised. When it comes to inter-county football, all logic seems to get suspended.

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There are eight teams in Division 4 of the Allianz League: Louth, London, Carlow, Antrim, Wexford, Limerick, Wicklow and Waterford. They were not dropped in here by royal command. Their previous performances dictated this, and they can also play themselves out of it.

The GAA now plans, if Congress approves, a championship for them alone instead of going to the qualifiers. The players say they are not interested and want to play in the qualifiers, yet every year after the provincial championships, Aer Lingus gets a significant boost as young players in these counties abandon their squad for far-flung shores, mainly New York, Boston and Chicago. Many are reluctant to get involved with their county teams in the first place because they don't want to train for months and get the usual tanking.

If you forget the lack of novelty in the Central Council suggestion, the consideration must be based on whether the 'B' championship is in the best interests of everyone. If it proceeds like the Tommy Murphy Cup of old, then this is a non-starter. Poor old Tommy Murphy got a bad name out of that; just as well he was not around to see his good name sullied by the lack of interest shown in the competition by both players and administrators.

So if the head honchos are really serious about this getting through Congress, it will have to be packaged as more than the wooden spoon. This could be done in several ways. The first way is to divide the eight into two sections and at least each county could have three games in high summer. Of course there would be dead rubbers, but if there were two qualifiers from each group with semi-finals and finals played in Croke Park before All-Ireland quarter- or semi-finals, then it has far more appeal than being played far off Broadway.

The most important thing though is the prize. It must have a serious financial element for both the county board and the players. If both finalists were to be guaranteed €100,000 each towards a players' holiday fund and the county boards got the same again, then a lot of managers, administrators and players would begin to take this seriously. It should be possible to get a sponsor too, someone like Ryanair who always back the underdog. This assumes there is enough wit and will to make it happen, or it could be a case where the Politburo say that a new format was put forward but the democratic process prevailed with a 'no' vote. This is merely another way of fudging it.

The natural reaction from most counties is that turkeys won't vote for Division 4 will oppose it and that will be the end. That is not always the case. Some turkeys actually do vote to be gobbled up.

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At a Meath County Board meeting last Monday night, delegates voted on refining the various championships by reducing numbers in each section. The net effect will be less revenue for the County Board, fewer games for county players with their clubs, a complete loss of interest in training with clubs who lose their first match in April and are effectively out of the championship, a greater incentive to go away for the summer and an overall reduction in the number of games for players.

The presumption is that it will make the championship more competitive, but I have seen very few uncompetitive games over the last few years.

The other reasoning is that it will improve standards and lead to better county players. Again I find that hard to work out. The way to improve standards is to have competitive games and good training over a season of at least nine months.

The majority of Meath clubs have no football at all in September, October or November. This is a time that is usually very good for playing football, and that is what a club should be about - not just getting competitions finished efficiently.

Anyway, the big problems in Meath football are at underage level. If you start off at the wrong place it is always hard to find your way to where you want to go. And so I find myself, again, in disagreement with a committee of the best people in Meath. This is the usual situation for me, but life on the dissidents' wing is more stimulating.

I digress, but the salient point remains. Sometimes in a democracy people do strange things. Some even vote for Fine Gael. So there is no accounting for people's perception of where the bus should go. In the case of a 'B' championship, the counties involved should be setting the agenda. They should be getting together and saying that they will agree if the price is right and nothing would do more to improve standards in these counties than good competitive games in summer with a proper prize at the end.

So before Congress, the GAA should not even bother with the motion unless they are willing to put cash on the table. If that happens everyone would buy into it, and the final should be played before an All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park. If the GAA really wants to make this a success it will work, and counties from Division 3 would also very happy to participate in something they could actually win and progress to a higher level, instead of having misplaced delusions of grandeur.

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