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Martin Breheny: Earlier finals are an answer - to the wrong question

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Kilkenny and Tipperary players parading before the All-Ireland hurling final replay last September. Playing the hurling final in August may seem like a small concession but, in reality, it's not

Kilkenny and Tipperary players parading before the All-Ireland hurling final replay last September. Playing the hurling final in August may seem like a small concession but, in reality, it's not

SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny and Tipperary players parading before the All-Ireland hurling final replay last September. Playing the hurling final in August may seem like a small concession but, in reality, it's not

If the windows were blown in and a tile became dislodged in your roof during last week's storms, the repair schedule would be obvious.

Windows first - the tile can wait. Yet, the GAA's Central Council has decided to prioritise the slate.

A little water intake through the roof is, apparently, more serious than wind and rain howling through the rest of the house.

The reason why many counties don't have much club activity in summer, leading to late championship finishes, is simple.

County managers demand near-exclusive access to players for as long as they are involved in the All-Ireland race. In many cases, it isn't even confined to senior players. That's the issue, not the timing of All-Ireland finals.

Once the decision to complete the club championships by December was taken, something had to give. A Work Group has made a number of proposals to facilitate a December conclusion, none of which makes a reference to the long-trunked one in the corner: county managers declaring much of the summer out of bounds for club games.

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Instead, the Work Group wants the All-Ireland senior finals brought forward by a week; All-Ireland final replays played six days after the draw; two periods of extra-time in club championship games that finish level.

Obviously, earlier All-Ireland finals is the headline item. It's also the one which suggests the Work Group ignored marketing and promotional reality.

Playing the hurling final in late August and the football final on the second Sunday in September might appear like a small concession in the wider promotional world but it's significant nonetheless.

It will dramatically reduce GAA exposure earlier than heretofore, scarcely the wisest of decisions in the current sporting environment.

For example, the GAA cannot ignore rugby's appeal, a reminder coming a few weeks ago when Connacht v Munster attracted a sell-out crowd of 7,500 at the Sportsground.

Apart from for a Connacht SFC game, Pearse Stadium rarely attracts a crowd of that size, despite being HQ for one of the strongest dual counties in the GAA.

Is the rugby marketing so much better? It must be a factor since hurling and football have far bigger fan bases than rugby in Galway.

If there was a solid reason why the All-Ireland finals were brought forward, then the promotional hit wouldn't be so much of an issue, but that's not the case.

Many county boards have long since ceded far too much control to team managers, who, understandably, want as much time as possible with their panels.

But how much is enough? When Joe Schmidt takes the Irish rugby team into the Six Nations opener action against Italy on February 7, he will have had exclusive access to the squad for less than two weeks, since they are all involved in European action next weekend.

Imagine the bleating if a county board fixed a round of club championship games 13 days before the start of the provincial series, with the county manager having had little access to the players over the previous two months.

If one week (gained by bringing forward the All-Ireland finals) can make such a dramatic difference to club schedules, where's the problem? Surely, it's possible for county boards to tighten their fixtures by a week and leave the All-Ireland finals on the long-established dates.

Earlier All-Ireland finals, backed by other minor adjustments, won't bring about a big improvement in club schedules.

Instead, there's a strong likelihood that an increasing number of counties (Tipperary and Wexford missed out in football this year) will not be represented in the provincial club championships.

One or two other issues arise from the Work Group's proposals. They want clubs from counties involved in the latter stages of the All-Ireland series to be granted later entry to the provincial championships. It's another privilege being bestowed on the stronger counties, this time by rewarding their clubs.

It seems to me that the Work Group came up with answers to the wrong questions.

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Armagh's Kevin Dyas made the journey to Croke Park yesterday for a special media event to promote Saturday's two All-Ireland SFC Round 4B qualifiers at headquarters but he opted not to speak to journalists. Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

Armagh's Kevin Dyas made the journey to Croke Park yesterday for a special media event to promote Saturday's two All-Ireland SFC Round 4B qualifiers at headquarters but he opted not to speak to journalists. Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Armagh's Kevin Dyas made the journey to Croke Park yesterday for a special media event to promote Saturday's two All-Ireland SFC Round 4B qualifiers at headquarters but he opted not to speak to journalists. Photo: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

 

Sorry Kevin, your reality is not as we know it

Armagh's Kevin Dyas has presented a rather curious view of how the football world allegedly sees Kieran McGeeney, claiming "there's a whole fascination thing around people trying to have a pop at 'Geezer'.

"Everyone knows that 'Geezer' is into his MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) stuff and people automatically associate that with a scuffle on a GAA field.

"There's no connection between the two. The row against Cavan (Ulster SFC) last year, 'Geezer' copped a bit of blame for that. The same against Tyrone (in the qualifiers).

"I think once his name is involved, it's automatically blown out of proportion. It's unfair but I suppose it's just the way it is. He's probably used to it by now," said Dyas.

A few questions, Kevin. Who are the people who "automatically associate" scuffles with McGeeney?

I deal with GAA people all the time and have never heard anyone make such a wild allegation.

Who wants to have a pop off McGeeney (pictured), apparently with deliberate intent? I haven't come across them either.

And who blows things out of proportion once McGeeney's name is involved?

Names, please, Kevin, we would love to know the identity of the proportion-busters. Back it up or don't say it.

The media dutifully reported his comments, presumably missing the irony that it was probably being used to carry allegations against itself, since it's unlikely Dyas was referring to loose talk among rival supporters.

The idea that there's a conspiracy against McGeeney to portray him as some sort of managerial bad boy is daft beyond words.

And that's not blown out of proportion.

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Jim Gavin faces a number of obstacles as he plans a successful bounce-back season in 2015, according to Dublin legend Paddy Cullen

Jim Gavin faces a number of obstacles as he plans a successful bounce-back season in 2015, according to Dublin legend Paddy Cullen

SPORTSFILE

Jim Gavin faces a number of obstacles as he plans a successful bounce-back season in 2015, according to Dublin legend Paddy Cullen

 

January riches don't last through the year

Winning games can never be bad for a team but unless some county follows up on a pre-season title with All-Ireland football glory soon, questions will be asked as to whether January success has attracted a hoodoo.

Not since Tyrone in 2005 has a county won a pre-season title and gone on to capture the All-Ireland crown later in the season.

In fact, pre-season winners don't have a particularly good records in provincial championships either.

That won't take away from interest in the finals in the four provinces next weekend, which even feature an all-ticket game when Kildare host Dublin in the O'Byrne Cup final in Newbridge. The game will be shown live on TG4.

The pre-season strike rate is different in hurling where Kilkenny have followed up on Walsh Cup wins with All-Ireland glory on no fewer than six occasions in the last decade. But then that's Kilkenny - men for all seasons, whose eyes light up at the sight of any silverware.

Clare also doubled up in 2013, winning the Waterford Crystal Cup and the All-Ireland title. For now, though, football awaits.

Of the nine counties remaining in the pre-season football tournaments, Dublin are the only ones in the top five for the All-Ireland betting. Recent trends might leave Jim Gavin uneasy if they return from Newbridge with the O'Byrne Cup on Sunday evening.

Irish Independent