Paul Curran: Outdated format means championship won't begin for another eight weeks
THE championship is well and truly up and running but I am finding it harder every year to get excited about the competition in its present outdated format.
There are so many things that I should be looking forward to but it is unfortunately true to say that the real excitement won’t start for another eight weeks.
When we eventually arrive at that stage in August, we will have the best eight teams in the championship this year playing just seven games between them to determine who will be crowned 2015 champions.
In the meantime, we will witness a heap of one-sided games that will do nothing to promote the game, especially in those counties who manage a couple of games every year despite all the effort and sacrifice from a lot of people - not just the players.
I have heard so many different opinions over the last decade from just about everyone on how to make our game a better one to play and of course to watch. A lot of the suggestions are well meant and have merit but I think that everyone’s missing the important point.
It isn’t good enough anymore to expect players in weaker counties to do the same and in some cases more , training than the top teams and then go out and get annihilated in the opening round of the most important competition of the year.
The championship format needs to be changed and quickly to save the competition and a new fairer format would not only give the weaker teams a genuine chance of success, it would also make for a more stream-lined championship with better games and ultimately better attendances.
My suggestion would be to follow the very same format as the clubs and introduce a senior and intermediate championship. The top 16 teams play for the senior championship with the others playing in a brand new intermediate competition.
How you break up the groups in each is another day’s work but the provincial championships and indeed the All-Ireland series are unfair competitions for the majority of teams.
Year after year after year, teams take their annual beating in their province and move on with false hope to another competition where they just might be drawn against someone of similar standard and the chance of that all-important, life-saving, season-defining championship victory. It’s nonsensical and it needs serious looking at.
At club level the county board would never dream of putting a junior team into the senior championship and junior teams would be up in arms if the competition allowed senior teams to enter their championship. It simply wouldn’t be tolerated. Yet this is what’s happening at inter-county level and someone needs to shout stop.
The weaker teams need a championship worth training for and one that gives them a fighting chance of firstly competing in and secondly winning. It would be huge for a county like Carlow to get on a run in a competition during the summer months. As it stands, the young people of Carlow hardly notice the first team as it exits both competitions usually before the end of June and usually after just two games.
Imagine playing four or five games and getting through to contest a semi-final in Croke Park in late August? Would it matter that it was an intermediate competition rather than a senior one? It would certainly help to promote the game in the county if young players see the senior stars more than twice during the summer.
I think the GAA need to wake up and realise that football is actually dying in some counties and the gap between the top, middle and bottom is widening at an alarming rate. Something needs to be done to help the teams who struggle every year, despite the fact that they put as much effort into their preparation as the likes of Kerry or Dublin do.
Some might argue that players still like the traditional competitions but I am sure if you asked each player privately they would agree with changing the format to a fairer one.
The club scene works very well and every county has seen a junior team developing at their level and progressing up as far as senior and because they have been able to develop they are not out of their depth when they qualify to play at a higher grade.
A new format with two grades with promotion and relegation built in would be a fairer system and I think it is time that the weaker teams demanded the new competition. We need something to reinvigorate our game after years of mostly negative issues being discussed.
There is nothing wrong with the game fundamentally and it is time to stop tinkering with it at every opportunity. We just need to clarify the rules and teach them to the grass roots, give the umpires and linesmen more power in terms of helping the referee and begin the process of changing the abuse culture in our game.
I enjoyed the game when I played it. It was a simple game with catch and kick and no real tactics. That has changed. Today’s version is very tactical and I enjoy that too. The players now are fitter and stronger and probably better too. The game is faster and the skill levels have improved. I don’t buy it that players were more skilful back in the days.
The truth is that today they are more committed and good luck to them. When I hear people saying that the game is gone too serious I have to bite my tongue. That’s the world we live in. Snooker and darts players no longer drink and smoke during competition.
Gaelic footballers are as professional and committed as most other sportspeople. To suggest that there is no fun in the game anymore is just not true. The players from the weaker counties are just as committed and need to find a competition that is worth training for.
Until that happens let’s just enjoy what 2015 has to offer.