Friday 23 August 2019

Paul Curran: 'The provincial championships are a huge problem again - and it all started back in October'

Cormac Costello of Dublin beats Fergal Sheeky in the Louth goal to score a goal in the 55th minute during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Louth and Dublin at OMoore Park in Portlaoise, Laois. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Cormac Costello of Dublin beats Fergal Sheeky in the Louth goal to score a goal in the 55th minute during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Louth and Dublin at OMoore Park in Portlaoise, Laois. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Paul Curran

The provincial championships have become all too predictable over the last decade or so and this season is no different, with most of the games going according to script.

It is a huge problem. Punters are deciding that it is better to spend their hard-earned cash on other things. The games lack the pulling power and excitement which were part and parcel of provincial games of the past.

Tyrone, Meath and Dublin won their games last Saturday without having to put their machines into third gear. Their opponents – Antrim, Carlow and Louth – suffered sickening defeats and this despite the fact they have all put in as much hard work all year as the victors.

There are too many provincial games that are now simply box-ticking exercises and, more worryingly, the boys in Croke Park have all but lost interest in them too.

I still can’t get my head around the decision to make the provincial championship draw for 2019 at the beginning of October the previous year. Can anyone seriously point out the benefits?

It seems like the GAA are happy to get it out of the way as early as possible with the minimum of fuss. I think they have switched off, like most of the paying public. That’s unacceptable and it’s failing the players.

Until such time (and it will come) as a new, more dynamic fairer football championship is drawn up the least we can expect from headquarters is to market the provincial championships and promote them.

The draw for the 2020 competition should take place after the league has concluded next March. That would give a shorter lead-in time and would generate a bit of enthusiasm and excitement around the country.

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Rant over.

There was one very exciting game in Castlebar on Saturday, as Division One league champions Mayo took on a Roscommon team relegated from the same division last March. On paper at least this looked like a fairly routine run out for the home side.

But, as we have seen on so many occasions with this Mayo team, they never seem to perform at their very best when they have the favourite’s label.

Yet again, the Mayo players were guilty on far too many occasions of poor shot selection and in the end, it cost them. Deep in injury time, Andy Moran had a go for what would have been the winning score but was blocked down by Niall Daly and Roscommon were able to work the ball to Fintan Cregg who kicked his team in front.

Mayo, to their credit, worked a final chance after Matthew Ruane was fouled in the scoring zone but Kevin McLoughlin missed his kick on the near side with zero time on the clock.

Roscommon deserve huge credit for this victory because everything was against them, including the weight of history. They don’t win too many championship games against Mayo in Castlebar but their approach and attitude to the game was first class.

Cathal Cregg hit the roof of the Mayo net early in the game and that score set the tone for the rest of his colleagues. A second goal from Ultan Harney followed shortly after, which reaffirmed their belief that this could be their day.

There were moments where they wobbled in the second half but when you have quality forwards in your team you always have a chance. Conor Cox is a huge addition and he turned in a Man of the Match performance.

Anthony Cunningham also deserves huge credit for the way he set his team up and the decision to keep quality players in reserve and spring them in the second half was both brave and justified.

It is a huge risk and you have to have all the players buying into this.

Donie and Enda Smith, Diarmuid Murtagh, Conor Devaney and Fintan Cregg played very important roles off the bench and that would suggest that there is a strong panel of players in the county. If they can keep their feet on the ground, I would give them a very good chance of regaining the provincial championship they last won in 2017.

Mayo must dust themselves down again and plot their way through the qualifiers. It is a route they have taken often and one that has been successful in terms of getting to the business end of the competition.

The pressure is off them for the moment and that won’t do them any harm. But the alarms bells are ringing again and until they find a few forwards, it is hard to see them landing the trophy they so desperately want.

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