Wednesday 21 March 2018

Martin Breheny: Another fine football mess

Despite plenty 'talk' about championship reform, Congress delegates have little to work off

Just like last year in Cavan, Congress delegates will be voting on many issues this week but there’s unlikely to be a vote on overhauling the football championship. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile.
Just like last year in Cavan, Congress delegates will be voting on many issues this week but there’s unlikely to be a vote on overhauling the football championship. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile.
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Why has it come to this? How was it allowed to happen? What will be the implications? The why-how-what of proposals for reform of the All-Ireland football championships will be tossed around at the GAA Congress in Carlow this weekend but, by the close of business on Saturday evening, nothing will have changed.

I will be attending Congress for the 39th time - an annual punishment beating that nobody should have to endure - and rarely have I seen such a ridiculous situation as has arisen out of the review of the football championship structure.

Central Council has a motion on the agenda but it's unlikely to be even discussed because of strong opposition from those directly affected. Division 4 counties have lined up to heap scorn on the plan to despatch them into a 'B' championship, rather than the qualifiers.


And if hostility from their county administrators wasn't enough to zap the 'B' proposal, the players have announced, through the GPA, that even if Congress votes it through, they won't play in the new competition.

It's fair to say then that there will be no 'B' championship any time soon. In those circumstances, Central Council should withdraw it from the Congress agenda, rather than facing an embarrassing defeat. It's bad enough to create a mess, without leaving it for others to clean up.

So I expect Central Council to scrap the 'B' proposal at their pre-Congress meeting. However, that will still leave the question of why they decided to proceed with it in the first place. More importantly, was that the best they could come up with?

Still, it's better to back off on a bad idea than suffer a landslide loss in a vote, which would be humiliating for Central Council, the second highest authority behind Congress.

Roscommon are proposing that following the provincial championships, counties are divided into a top and bottom 16, with the top 16 competing for the Sam Maguire Cup and the rest entering a 'B' championship. It has no chance of being passed since it would disqualify Division 3 counties from the qualifiers.

Carlow have a more thought-provoking idea, which involves seeding the qualifiers so that Division 4 plays Division 3, with the winners taking on Division 2. It's designed to generate more equality in the qualifiers and reduce the risk of one-sided games. It has merit but in matters like this, a proposal from a single county is usually beaten.

It's highly probable that only a tiny minority of the 320 Congress delegates are happy with the current format. We know that because of the many proposals for change sent to Croke Park last year, arising from a request for submissions.

It started when, within a few hours of taking over as president last February, Aogán O Fearghail spoke of dissatisfaction among counties.

"Many are not comfortable with the format of the qualifiers and we will take note of that. I don't have a white rabbit to pull out of a hat on this one but I certainly think it is an area where we will listen to people and look for good proposals to work on," said O Fearghail.

Some months later, the provincial championships, All-Ireland qualifiers and quarter-finals delivered some embarrassingly one-sided games, which led to a loud clamour for change. Counties were asked for submissions, which elicited a large response, even if some of the proposals weren't so much off the wall as not even near it.

That's what tends to happen with a scattergun approach to reform. Each county largely operates off its own interests.

The GPA drafted a detailed, but fundamentally flawed, proposal which not only greatly increased the number of championship games but also insisted that eight top-ranked teams play the eight lowest-ranked counties as part of a round-robin system, which would apply after the provincial championships.

Not only would it virtually guarantee several one-sided games, it would also open the way for some meaningless games at the end of the round-robin series.

Still, the GPA plan should have been put on the Congress agenda for detailed discussion. Instead, it was vetoed by Central Council. It might have been understandable if Central Council had a smart, visionary plan of its own but instead the only offering was a re-launch of the Tommy Murphy Cup, which ran aground due to lack of interest eight years ago.

Here's the comical irony about this weekend's Congress. If every delegate were canvassed for a view on the football championship structure, probably all of them would agree that it needed reforming on a number of fronts.

Yet, despite being tossed around for much of last year, there are only three proposals on the Congress agenda, one of which is likely to be withdrawn to avoid being obliterated in a vote, while the other two will get polite hearings before being beaten.

What then? The football championship will still be beset by the same problems which prompted this review in the first place but Central Council, at whose behest it was undertaken, can't very well order another one immediately.

After all, if the best they could come up was a reheat of the Tommy Murphy Cup menu, they don't have a whole lot of credibility in this matter. And since there was no little agreement among the various submissions from the counties, there's no point in going that route again.

Does it leave us with a system that everyone accepts is defective, yet there's seems no way of repairing it? That would be a shocking admission.

Truly, this is a shambles.

Mitchels have good reason to whinge about the Taoiseach

Whatever about the political impact of Enda Kenny's controversial comments about whingers on himself and Fine Gael in Friday's election, he may have unwittingly damaged his local club's prospects of winning the All-Ireland senior football title.

"We have some All-Ireland champions here in Castlebar. I don't mean Castlebar Mitchels," he said before attacking 'whingers'.

Of course, Mitchels aren't champions yet and while they have qualified for the final on St Patrick's Day, they face a big test against Ballyboden St Enda's. And as Mitchels know from their disappointing experience against another Dublin club, St Vincent's, two years ago, trying to win an All-Ireland final is a tough business. So they could have done without having the Ballyboden bear poked by effectively implying that the final was a done deal.

Between that and the 'whingers' comment, it wasn't exactly the Taoiseach's greatest 30 seconds, now was it?

Why have Cork so many big security problems?

Kieran Kingston praised his team's "attitude, work-rate and the way they stuck to the game-plan" after Cork's defeat by Waterford last Saturday.

It was only his second competitive game as Rebel boss, so highlighting any positives he could find was understandable.

This time, they also came in the form of a good finish, albeit one that wasn't enough to undo the earlier damage.

Still, here's an issue that Kingston and his fellow strategists need to urgently address if Rebel fortunes are to change for the better.

Saturday's concession rate was the 16th time in their last 20 League and Championship games that Cork conceded 20 or more scores.

The average score against them in those 20 games was 24.1 points, a giveaway that loses a whole lot more games than it wins.

Cork also returned some big scores on various days, but for as long as they continue to concede an average of 1-21 per game, progress will be very limited.

It presents Kingston, Diarmuid O'Sullivan and Co with the ultimate test of their security credentials.

Irish Independent

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