Sunday 24 March 2019

Martin Breheny: ''Super 8s' farce makes Congress clár while major issues ignored'

Delegates arguing over where to play one game is a waste of precious time

Congress will discuss Dublin playing two Super 8s games in Croke Park
Congress will discuss Dublin playing two Super 8s games in Croke Park
Cormac Curran of Kildalton College soars into the sky to make a brilliant catch ahead of Dundalk IT’s Kevin Crawley during the Corn Pádraig MacDiarmada final at Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

They will come from the 32 counties and many parts of the world where the GAA is thriving, all 280 of them congregating in Clayton Whites Hotel in Wexford on Friday night for the start of the annual Congress.

It's a large gathering, certainly more than enough to create the impression that many weighty issues are on the agenda, awaiting urgent decisions.

In reality, that's not the case. In fact, I can hardly recall a less relevant agenda and that's saying something for someone who has had brain cells destroyed by boredom from listening to some pretty pointless discussions at over 40 Congress weekends.

This one could be the worst of the lot. Really important matters like the bizarre fixtures programme, which has overloaded county players on Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup teams to a ridiculous degree, won't be discussed.

Nor will club v county tensions, the merits or otherwise of a secondary football championship or the problems caused by increasing population imbalances around the country.

However, the venue for one 'Super 8s' football game has a motion all to itself, specifically that no county be allowed to nominate Croke Park as their home venue. It will be proposed by Donegal and targets Dublin, who had two of their three Super 8s games at HQ last year. They played Donegal and Roscommon in Croke Park, which was classed as Dublin's home and neutral ground.

Now, whatever your view on that, it's not something that should come before Congress, which is supposed to deal with major policy matters, as opposed to minor operational details.

Central Council or the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) are far more suitable forums for venue considerations, but since the Super 8s running order is written into rule, only Congress can change any aspect of it.

The Donegal argument is that playing two of three games in Croke Park is an advantage for Dublin, a case that's difficult to argue against.

But then, the entire All-Ireland championship is riddled with examples of structural unfairness, yet no county is actively seeking change, certainly not if it involves interfering with the provincial series.

It's beyond daft that four provinces, each with a different number of counties, have the same automatic representation in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Benefits

And there's further inequality in how the provinces run their championships, with Munster operating a seeding system, which greatly benefits Kerry and Cork, and Leinster ensuring that the four semi-finalists avoid the first round in the following year and can't be drawn against each other in the quarter-finals.

There's never a formal proposal to Congress to either (a) scrap the provincials as the starting point for the All-Ireland championship or (b) stop the seeding patterns which are geared in favour of the strong counties.

Now those are substantial issues which Congress should address, but instead it will debate whether Dublin should be forced out of Croke Park for a Super 8s game.

If that happens, Dublin will nominate Parnell Park, which has a capacity of 8,500 for an all-ticket game, as its home venue. So if, for instance, Dublin were playing Mayo in Parnell Park, only season-ticket holders from both counties could attend.

Even for a Super 8s game, Dublin v Mayo would attract a crowd of up to 60,000 so the ridiculous situation would arise where over 50,000 people missed the game.

Apart from the financial loss - and despite all the populist ranting about corporate overload, the GAA have a responsibility to all its units to maximise whatever opportunities arise - there's the promotional dimension to be considered.

How could it make sense to play a game in low-capacity Parnell Park, while just over two miles away one of the best stadiums in Europe lies idle except for its pigeon clients?

If Parnell Park is to become the venue for one of Dublin's Super 8s games, they may well decide to use it for the Allianz League too, causing further capacity issues, not to mention lowering the financial pot, from which all counties benefit.

Dublin have always enjoyed an advantage by playing their games in Croke Park, but nobody really cared when they weren't winning All-Irelands or indeed Leinster titles for several years too. Croke Park is not the reason for the change, which has come about because Dublin got better and their rivals dropped back.

In fact, in the case of the Leinster Championship, the sad truth is that probably never in All-Ireland history were so many Leinster teams so far down the pecking order.

Taking Dublin out of Croke Park for one Super 8s game won't change that. It would, however, ensure that large numbers of supporters - from Dublin and elsewhere - miss out on a big game in the height of summer.

It's difficult to know how Congress will vote on the issue next Saturday (a 60pc majority is required to change the rule) because a great many counties aren't Super 8s standard and have no direct interest in where the games should be played. That's a bigger concern, but it won't even be discussed. Instead, we will have a divisive debate on what, in the great scheme of things, is a triviality.

It will be interesting to see how many speakers have their say but, irrespective of that, one thing is certain: however long the debate goes on will be a waste of precious time.

Big ball purer than hurling?

It’s unusual for a team to be awarded so many scoreable frees, but when the chances arose for Cork against Clare Patrick Horgan helped himself to 15 points. That’s 65 per cent of their total, underlying yet again the true value of a reliable dead-ball sniper.

Cork have the highest return from frees (44 per cent) in the first three Division 1A rounds, followed by Kilkenny (42 per cent), Tipperary (38), Wexford (32), Limerick (31), Clare (27). It leaves the overall average at 36 per cent. 

So we thought we’d take a look at how much-maligned football compares in terms of scores from frees.

Surely, the ugly duckling, complete with all its perceived negativity, yields a much higher percentage from frees.

Actually, it’s three per cent lower, coming in at 33 per cent in Division 1 so far this year, with Dublin the lowest on just over 20 per cent, while Tyrone are the highest on 53 per cent.

So there you go. It may be only be a snapshot comparison but football is beating hurling in scoring purity. Who would have thought it?

Offaly freefall still not slowing down

When Offaly beat Dublin by 10 points in the first round of the 1B campaign last year and later ran Kilkenny to two points in the quarter-final,  optimism levels rose, albeit with some reservations in the county itself.

Sadly for Offaly, and hurling in general, the sceptics were right. Offaly have lost their last 10 games in the Leinster Championship, Walsh Cup and league by an average of over 12 points.

They lost to Waterford, Dublin and Laois by a combined total of 44 points in recent weeks and have Galway coming their way next Sunday.

It means they are almost certainly facing a relegation play-off  against Carlow or Laois and, if they were to lose that, it would leave them outside the top tier in league and championship.

“The players have to ask themselves questions about their commitment tonight and whether they gave everything or not,” said manager Kevin Martin after the defeat by Laois. Based on that remark, the decline may still have some way to go.

Irish Independent

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