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The wee county will miss Keenan the midfield giant

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Recently-retired Paddy Keenan has been tipped to chair a committee to analyse all aspects of the difficulties facing the top 10/12 counties. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Recently-retired Paddy Keenan has been tipped to chair a committee to analyse all aspects of the difficulties facing the top 10/12 counties. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Recently-retired Paddy Keenan has been tipped to chair a committee to analyse all aspects of the difficulties facing the top 10/12 counties. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Paddy Keenan signed off from the inter-county circuit in the same classy way that he adorned it for 12 years.

Nobody was omitted from his long appreciation list before he concluded by promising to be an enthusiastic Louth supporter next year.

Following their demotion last April, that journey will begin in Division 3 and a promotion bid made all the more difficult by the departure of one of the best midfielders of his generation.

Keenan cited work commitments and the need to clear up niggling injuries as the reason for his retirement which, no doubt, is true. However, if he had been playing for a more successful county than Louth, would he be quitting at the age of 29?

Ever since making his inter-county championship debut in 2003, Keenan's dedication was consistently motivated by a desire to use his extensive talents to move Louth forward. He knew that he had been dealt a weaker hand than his counterparts from stronger counties, but simply got on with it.

Illegal

All he could do was drive on in the hope that a break might come. And come it did in 2010, when Louth won the Leinster final on legal scores but were denied the title because a blatantly illegal Meath goal was allowed to stand.

It remains one of the great sporting injustices of modern times, but dwelling on it was pointless for Louth. In fairness, they moved on a long time ago.

Still, it shows how fleeting the opportunities are for counties on the margins and, by extension, for players like Keenan, however talented they may be. Given the GAA's county structures, there's a degree of inevitability about that.

However, it should not be shrugged off with a sympathetic "sure the poor will be always with us" response.

That's where players like Keenan come in or, perhaps more accurately, are left out. It's a fact of life in all sports that success attracts attention so the big media and sponsorship interest revolves around top teams and individuals.

So if you are a young player in the early stages of your football career with Dublin, Kerry, Donegal, Mayo or a few other counties at the elite end, you will have a high profile, whereas a seasoned performer in a weaker county is largely unnoticed.

Being such an outstanding talent, Keenan broke that mould to some degree. Indeed, in 2010 he even managed to smash the glass ceiling which prevents so many fine players from unsuccessful counties from winning an All Star award.

Still, a relative newcomer from a stronger county was more likely to be asked for his opinion on the state of Gaelic football than Keenan. When it comes to endorsements, sponsorships etc, companies attach themselves to winners, offer them for interview as part of the deal and then watch happily as the media exposure accumulates.

No fault attaches to anyone because it's pure business for all concerned. So while Player A from a strong county is offered yet again (the same pool is fished nearly all the time) to offer platitudinous drivel, those from less successful counties are ignored.

It's law of the jungle territory, helping to maintain the divide as the strong counties will always get an audience, even if they have nothing especially interesting to say. Unfortunately, the same principle applies in the GAA's competition structures too. It will always be impossible to have all counties on level playing terms, but there's no reason why a fair degree of equality should not apply in other areas of activity.

The elite attract the big sponsorships and corporate supports, enabling them to use their financial strength to pull further ahead of the rest. Surely, a case can be made for introducing some form of financial equalisation between counties.

As for competition structures, are they advancing everybody's interests equally?

I would like to see a special committee formed from counties outside the top 10/12 to analyse all aspects of the difficulties they are facing and to come up with radical proposals to address them. Indeed, now that Paddy Keenan will have more free time, perhaps he could chair it.

More than anyone, he knows that geography is even more important than talent in deciding how much success a player will enjoy. In any event, it would be more interesting to hear from Keenan and his likes than yet another pampered protégé from a strong county, holding court in his paid ambassadorial role for drain-cleaners or deodorants.

As a genuine ambassador for the GAA, Louth and Gaelic football, Keenan was the real deal. A relatively empty sideboard will never change that.

 

Cork and Kerry remain privileged in Munster deal

So then, peace in our time in the Munster SFC, which has removed some of the unfair privilege bestowed this year on Cork and Kerry, who were seeded so that they couldn't meet until the final.

It outraged players from the other four counties, leading to a boycott of the McGrath Cup and the Munster inter-provincial squad. The latest compromise involves Cork and Kerry being seeded through to the semi-finals, where they will meet two quarter-final winners on an open draw basis.

It's fairer than what applied this year but it still leaves Cork and Kerry guaranteed an automatic provincial semi-final slot, a luxury not available to any county in the other provinces.

It also means that Cork or Kerry cannot enter the All-Ireland qualifiers until the second round, also something not guaranteed to any other county. And if Cork and Kerry are paired apart in the semi-final, then Round 4 is the likely qualifier entry point for one of them.

Provincial councils are free to make their own championship arrangements but since it impacts on the qualifiers, should they not be required to get Central Council approval? After all, why should Cork and Kerry gain an advantage in the qualifiers because of their strength and status in Munster?

 

U-21 trebles no guarantee of senior spree

A word of caution  for Tony Kelly and and his fellow young  Clare co-achievers after winning the All-Ireland U-21 hurling treble.

Cork, Limerick and Tipperary are the only counties to have previously won the treble, but it didn't lead to an immediate senior surge for any of them.

Cork, All-Ireland senior champions in 1970, won four successive U-21 titles in 1968-71 but had to wait until 1976 for their next senior title.

Tipperary won an U-21 treble in 1979-81 but didn't win a senior title until 1989.

As for Limerick, their U-21 wins in 2000-01-02 sprinkled no water on the seniors' parched All-Ireland landscape, despite all the optimism of that period.

Irish Independent