Saturday 15 December 2018

Leinster championship now the weakest link

Clare's Gary Brennan in action against Kildare's Kevin Feely during the Allianz Football League, Division 3, Final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Clare's Gary Brennan in action against Kildare's Kevin Feely during the Allianz Football League, Division 3, Final at Croke Park. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile Newsdesk

Clare's win over Kildare in the Division 3 final wasn't just the most exhilarating football victory of the year so far, it was also another stake through the heart of one of the most fondly and thoughtlessly repeated orthodoxies about the championship system.

Which is that said system discriminates hugely against Leinster. How often have you heard it said? The only football teams in Munster are Cork and Kerry, and Mayo just have Galway to beat in Connacht, but Leinster is a swirling maelstrom of intense competition.

Bollocks. Watching the third, or maybe even fourth, best team in Munster beat probably the second best team in Leinster, it was impossible to escape the conclusion that football in the biggest province is in a dire state. The idea that Connacht and Munster have weaker championships than Leinster simply won't hold water. (We won't even go near Ulster, where there are probably six or seven teams better than the second best team in Leinster).

Clare weren't the only lesser lights in the 'weaker' provinces to enjoy a superb league campaign. Roscommon were good enough to win away to Kerry, Cork and Donegal, finish third in the top flight and run Dublin to a single point, all achievements which would have been well beyond the compass of any Leinster county outside the capital.

While two Ulster counties were being promoted from Division 2, the Leinster sides in that flight were drastically underachieving, Laois coming bottom and Meath avoiding relegation on points difference. Kildare's topping of Division 3 was a bright spot but Clare put that into perspective. Last year's Leinster finalists Westmeath made the drop to Division 4, finishing a couple of places below Sligo, whose heavy defeat in last year's Connacht final led to much sneering about the weak state of football in that province.

There may be more counties in Leinster than anywhere else but right now some of those counties are very weak: next year's bottom division will contain four counties from Leinster and not a single one from Ulster.

In fairness to Kildare they've challenged the trope of Dublin's awesome strength at underage by winning two of the last three provincial minor titles and are probably the county closest to getting their act together. But in an era when Tipperary, another 'weak' county from 'weak' Munster, can win a minor All-Ireland and almost win an under 21, it's hardly good enough that Meath, for example, haven't won either competition since 1992.

Those Tipperary underage performances, Roscommon's league campaign and Clare's league final victory indicate that the sleeping giants of Leinster football should be a lot better than they are. The fault, dear sirs, is not in the population stats but in yourselves.

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