Monday 21 October 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Leinster's football farce has gone beyond a joke'

Dublin’s total dominance underlines why championship format must be overhauled

Raheny clubmates Brian Howard and Brian Fenton celebrate with the Delaney Cup in Croke park on Sunday. The debate over senior teams' expenses rages, but there is a solution. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Raheny clubmates Brian Howard and Brian Fenton celebrate with the Delaney Cup in Croke park on Sunday. The debate over senior teams' expenses rages, but there is a solution. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

RIP the Leinster Senior Football Championship. Died on Sunday, June 23, 2019 at Croke Park, Jones Road, Dublin 3 after a long illness. Deeply regretted by everyone who remembers Meath v Dublin 1991, Meath v Kildare 1997, Laois v Kildare 2003 and Westmeath v Laois 2004. Survived by 10 counties who've been wasting their time for years.

You may hear claims that it's not dead at all but if you see this championship walking around next year, it'll be a zombie with an eye on your vital organs. It's already taken the heart and guts from every Leinster county outside the capital.

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It was in very bad shape at the end, God love it. Nine titles in a row for Dublin and 14 out of the last 15. An average winning margin of 15 points in the last half dozen finals. An average winning margin of 18 points for Dublin in this year's championship.

The Leinster Championship may be the most pointless sporting competition in Europe.

BATE Borisov have won the Belarussian Premier League 13 times in a row but last season alone they lost three games. That's more competition than the Dubs ever face at provincial level.

Perhaps the Liechtenstein Football Cup, won on 21 of the last 22 occasions by FC Vaduz, is more one-sided. But, as you well remember, Vaduz only beat FC Ruggell 3-2 in this year's final and had to go to a penalty shoot-out against FC Balzers in 2013. Dublin never have to endure such nail-biters.

People used to tut-tut when Crossmaglen Rangers were winning 13 county titles in a row but only two of their final victories were by double-figure margins. Armagh was a seething cockpit of competition compared to Leinster.

This year's final was the usual torment to watch. Whatever Dublin's inbuilt advantages, Meath should be better than this.

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It wasn't the champions' financial and demographic power which made Graham Reilly kick four wides, Ben Brennan miss three scoreable frees and several Meath men shoot like Aussie Rules players just introduced to the round ball.

The Royals are not the first team to give a mouse-transfixed-by-a-cobra display against the Dubs. It's as though Dublin's unremitting dominance is sapping the morale of counties who know the winner of the provincial championship before a ball is kicked.

Meath were woeful. You have to go back to 1951, when the Royals beat Laois 4-9 to 0-3, since a team scored less in the final. It's 64 years since Meath suffered a heavier defeat in one. Yet Dublin were sloppy enough until the final quarter when subs Dean Rock and Michael Darragh Macauley moved things up a notch.

The moment of maximum pain for the opposition tends to coincide with the arrival of Dublin subs eager to stake a claim.

In Leinster, the Dublin players are playing not so much against the opposition as against their rivals for a place in the starting 15. That's what keeps them interested. Until the subs arrived yesterday Dublin were having problems keeping the footballing equivalent of a straight face. With all guns blazing they could have won by 30.

Leinster's nadir follows excellent finals in the other provinces. The giant-killing of Roscommon, the renaissance of Cork and the resurgence of Cavan show there's plenty of life in their provincial championships. But the Leinster-sized elephant in the room may drag all the other provinces down with it.

It makes no sense that a third of football's counties play in a competition they have no hope of ever winning.

This doesn't bother GAA president John Horan whose recent comment that it'll be only a matter of time before Meath and Kildare are challenging Dublin deserves a prominent entry in the Oxford Book of Waffle.

It's the kind of thing a millionaire might say if he meets an old classmate begging on the street: "Chin up Paddy. Sure in a few years you could have a private jet too."

Maybe Horan said it because he's a Dub himself and can imagine no greater pleasure than seeing them win terrible Leinster finals by 16 points.

Or maybe he's just reflecting a general view within the GAA hierarchy in which case Leinster football's journey down the road to nowhere will continue for a while yet.

Horan, like every GAA president who fancies himself as the new Seán Kelly, has a big idea. He wants to bring in a two-tier championship because it's not fair that lesser counties suffer humiliating defeats by powerful opposition year after year. What's the point of being in a competition you can't win?

But no counties are so regularly humiliated and have less hope of winning a trophy than those in Leinster, including such apparent tier-one material as Meath and Kildare.

Ignoring the eyesore which is the GAA's largest and least competitive provincial championship renders all other structural change meaningless. It makes John's tiers look like crocodile tiers. Or the tiers of a clown.

Here's a thought. Put Dublin in Munster to liven things up. Then rename Leinster, 'The Tier Two Championship.' Voila, Croke Park gets its tiers and Leinster lives again. It might be a daft idea but it's no dafter than the current situation.

The Leinster Football Championship has become the biggest joke in Irish sport. And that joke isn't funny anymore.

Yesterday it hit rock bottom. Who wants to see another 70 minutes like that? There's more excitement in Boris Johnson's living room.

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