Bad fixtures call leaves counties stranded in one-chance saloon
Over the past month, Clare’s David Tubridy set a record as the highest scorer in Allianz Football League history, taking his total to 22-478.
His average performance rating in the Irish Independent for four games was 8-8-9-8. They have been familiar figures alongside the 34-year-old’s name during his long career.
He has made no decisions, but this could be his last year with Clare, whose latest attempt to rise to Division 1 was thwarted by Mayo.
Luck ran against them, not in Sunday’s game but in pitting them against Mayo, rather than Meath. The Royals were beaten by Kildare, who had lost to Clare a few weeks earlier. Clare’s luck was out in the provincial draws too, lining them up against Kerry in the first round. It’s the fifth time in seven seasons they have been on the same side of the Munster draw as Kerry, whom they have beaten only once in 70 years.
Kerry, flying so high at present that they can barely see the ground, have home advantage. They will win and Clare’s season will be over on June 26.
I’m using Clare as an illustration of unfairness at two levels, one institutional, the other in the response to Covid’s intervention.
The latter has prompted the cancellation of football qualifiers for a second year, leaving counties in a one-chance saloon where, in two provinces, the cards are marked.
Leinster and Munster continue to arrange their draws to benefit the most successful. Leinster’s protect-the-rich, tax-the-poor mechanisms see them omitting the previous year’s quarter-finalists from the first round draw and then keeping apart in the quarter-finals, while Munster leave the previous year’s finalists out of the quarter-final draw.
They pulled an even more outrageous stunt in 2014 by ensuring that Kerry and Cork were on opposite sides of the draw. It took a boycott threat from players from the other counties to ensure it never happened again.
Still, it showed the attitude of the Clare, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford officialdom that they agreed to the elitist caper. Only for the players’ revolt, it would probably have stayed in place.
Wicklow signed off on the league last weekend with a great win over Cavan, setting them up nicely for a Leinster opener against Wexford. Wicklow are buzzing after beating the Ulster champions to survive in Division 3, while Wexford are in big need of a boost after failing to reach the Division 4 semi-finals.
The prize for the winners? A clash with Dublin, while the losers are finished for the season. Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Laois were all seeded through to the quarter-finals, where they couldn’t be drawn against each other.
Why the protectionism? What would be wrong with an open draw and let everyone take their chance, as used to be the case years ago?
The sheer unfairness of the provincial system, especially in Leinster and Munster, is amplified by the absence of qualifiers for a second year.
It’s all the more frustrating for footballers when they see their hurling counterparts getting a second chance. Tipperary manager David Power complained about the disparity last week, querying why it was happening again this year.
The fixture-makers’ explanation is that it wouldn’t be possible to run off provincial and qualifiers in the allotted time. They are right, but then they were dealt a bad hand by whoever drew up the time-frame.
Why didn’t the football league start on the same weekend as hurling (May 8/9) rather than a week later? Why was next weekend effectively wasted by allocating it for divisional finals, when those involved were given the right to opt out if they had championship games a week later? It was always likely that Kerry and/or Donegal would be in the Division 1 final; Mayo were all but certainties to be in the Division 2 decider, while there was a high probability that Louth would be in the Division 4 final.
Offaly reached the Division 3 final but decided not to take next weekend off. The others didn’t – hence no finals in three divisions and a precious weekend wasted.
The GAA claim that there simply wasn’t enough time to include football qualifiers and still play the All-Ireland final on August 29. That wouldn’t have been the case if the league started earlier and next weekend wasn’t allocated for games that were unlikely to be played.
Instead, the qualifiers were sacrificed, leaving many counties guaranteed one game only. It shouldn’t be so.
Full credit to John Maughan for taking an up-front approach to the Division 3 football final, making it clear that they wanted to play Derry next weekend.
With their Leinster SFC clash against Louth on the following weekend, Offaly could have avoided the final, as has happened in other divisions.
Instead, Maughan led the call for the final to proceed, pointing out that it was a rare opportunity for his players to sample Croke Park.
We’re used to managers complaining about busy schedules even if, quite often, they are caused by training loads rather than actual games so it’s heartening to see a break from conventional thinking. Saturday’s game is eight days out from the clash with Louth so Maughan felt the best preparation was a competitive game, rather than another training session.
Of course, if Offaly lose a player to injury, it will be classed as a bad decision. It’s not. Injuries can happen just as easily in training.
Food for thought among the hurling community from an article on GAA.ie by Martin Fogarty, National Hurling Development manager.
“I got an email recently from a coach who told me how he has been coaching his players to foul for years, using the spare hand, blocking runs etc., and how now all these things are being blown, what is he to do? My answer, as always, was to teach his players how to hook and block, and to learn the rules.”
And how about this? “The rules were more or less the same 20 years ago. Holding was holding, chopping was chopping and shouldering a lad into the chest or head were all frees then as they are now. The big difference a few years ago was that fouling was not coached into players. They fouled or didn’t foul of their own accord.”
What of this? “I’m not so sure that even some inter-county players actually know the rules of the game anymore.”
There’s more, too, from the Kilkenny man who calls it exactly as he sees it. And what he is seeing at present is worrying him greatly. Understandably so, because nefarious practices are at work.