Friday 15 December 2017

Reform of championship structure unlikely to stop the rich from getting richer

Colm Keys discusses some of the key issues to emerge from Saturday's Croke Park double bill

Michael Darragh MacAuley and Darren Daly of Dublin battle for the ball against Westmeath’s David Duffy and Ger Egan
Michael Darragh MacAuley and Darren Daly of Dublin battle for the ball against Westmeath’s David Duffy and Ger Egan

Dublin remain firmly on course for an eighth Leinster title in nine years, with fears that they may not face a challenge at all distilled by an indifferent display by Kildare in the opening match of Saturday's double-header at Croke Park.

With pace and power allowing them to play at a high tempo for most of the 70 minutes, it was no surprise that they won as they liked against a Westmeath team that is clearly going to struggle in Division 1 next season.

In the curtain-raiser, Kildare scored exactly the same number of points, 19, as they did against Offaly in the corresponding game last season, but the Faithful County made a marked improvement and can look ahead to the qualifiers with greater enthusiasm than they have done for some time.

So, what were the main talking points to emerge from Saturday's matches?

REFORM - BUT WILL IT MAKE THAT MUCH DIFFERENCE?

The calls for structural change to the championships are growing on the back of recent results, but will it make that much difference?

Would Westmeath have been any closer to Dublin on Saturday night had it been a game in a Champions League-style group-of-four format rather than a Leinster Championship match?

The rich are getting richer in Gaelic football but how many weaker counties would take a proper 'B' championship seriously, given the disdain there was for a Tommy Murphy Cup?

When none of the four All-Ireland semi-finalists in 2010 were champions in their provinces, the provincial championships were damned and calls for change were just as loud. But in 2011 and 2012 all four provincial champions made the semi-finals.

What reform would do is bring novelty and freshness that could give impetus in the short term.

But over the long term, the rich will always be rich. If greater equality of standards is the desire, then merging counties is the only solution. And that's not likely to happen.

A RETURN TO THE PROVINCES FOR DUBLIN ON THE CARDS

Pat Flanagan made an interesting claim after Saturday's defeat in relation to the venue – if Westmeath were to play all their games at Cusack Park over the next two years, he ventured, they would win a Leinster title.

The crowd on Saturday evening was 33,008, over 1,500 up on a corresponding double-bill (Dublin/ Louth and Wexford/Longford) on the Sunday of last year's June Bank Holiday weekend.

It was a decent crowd but not a decent atmosphere.

Dublin and Westmeath could have drawn 18,000 to Tullamore on the same evening and generated a real championship atmosphere. Kildare and Offaly could have brought 8,000-10,000 to the same venue or Portlaoise yesterday or even this afternoon.

For the sake of 5,000 and for the relevant costs associated with using Croke Park, would it not be of better promotional value to concentrate on atmosphere for some of these opening rounds?

Jim Gavin made it clear he wouldn't object to a first 'away' championship game since 2006.

IS THE CLUXTON KICK-OUT UNDER PRESSURE?

For years it has worked to near perfection. Stephen Cluxton drops a ball on a tee, floats it like a punched seven-iron to one of the wings where, with precision timing, there's a colleague in receipt some 45 metres out.

But lately there have been signs of distress for one of the most important elements of Dublin's game.

Cluxton's delivery remains solid but the receivers are under more pressure than ever before.

The stealth that was once the hallmark of Alan Brogan, Bryan Cullen and Shane Ryan before them has gone.

SURELY NOT WHAT SEANIE JOHNSTON SIGNED UP FOR

The emergence of Niall Kelly, Paul Cribbin, Paddy Brophy and even Daniel Flynn has pushed Seanie Johnston down the pecking order in Kildare.

He has had injury problems and showed reasonable form at times in the league but on Saturday evening he wasn't even the first forward replacement in, as Fionn Dowling replaced Brophy before Johnston came in for Tomas O'Connor.

Johnston has been eligible for six championship games now since his transfer from Cavan but has yet to start one. Not what he signed up for, surely. Perhaps his time will come.

HIGH-QUALITY SCORING AND GOALKEEPING

Okay, the intensity may not have been great in either match, the atmosphere was poor and mistakes were plentiful. But some of the quality of scores from Paddy Andrews, Diarmuid Connolly, Niall McNamee, John Doyle and Niall Kelly were of the very highest quality.

On top of that, Offaly 'keeper Alan Mulhall and Westmeath's Gary Connaughton produced some magnificent saves, ensuring that only two goals were scored by four teams in 140 minutes.

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