Leinster losers real cause for concern
Eastern representation could be as low as three in Divisions 1 and 2 next year as recession continues outside Dublin, writes Martin Breheny
If, for some reason, the last two rounds of the Allianz National Football League had to be cancelled and next season's groupings were based on current standings, only three Leinster counties - Dublin, Kildare and Westmeath - would be in the top two divisions.
That's one fewer than this year, which has Dublin and Kildare in Division 1, with Louth and Meath in Division 2.
Dublin's rampaging march through the top end of the market keeps the Leinster flag flying but the reality elsewhere continues to be grim.
Kildare are virtually certain to crash out of Division 1 a year after being promoted; Meath and Louth have won one of 10 games between them, leaving them in the relegation slots in Division 2.
It's also one win between them for Offaly and Wexford at the bottom of Division 3; Wicklow are second last in Division 4.
Kildare, Meath, Louth, Offaly, Wexford and Wicklow have won only two of 30 games between them. Even then, one win (Offaly's success over Wexford last Sunday) was against Leinster opposition.
Despite that, Offaly and Meath are still in with a decent chance of avoiding the drop but Louth and Wexford, who have lost all 10 games so far, look doomed.
Dublin apart, the good news for Leinster is that Westmeath and Longford are challenging for promotion from Division 3, while Carlow and Laois are in a three-way shoot-out with Antrim for promotion from Division 4.
That Laois are in Division 4 shows how far they have dropped, while Westmeath bombed all the way from Division 1 to Division 4 before beginning another ascent last year.
It's a grim picture for the province, one that shows little sign of becoming prettier any time soon.
"Hopefully, as many as possible of those chasing promotion will get there, but we have to admit it's disappointing for Leinster to see so many counties at the wrong end of the tables.
"In fairness to Kildare, they are a bit unlucky to be at the bottom of Division 1 - they lost three games by a point or two," said Leinster Council CEO Michael Reynolds.
Leinster's decline (outside of Dublin) has left them well off the pace in the championship too.
While Jim Gavin's men have accumulated unprecedented riches, the others have made little impression, with Kildare (2012-2015) the only other eastern county to reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals over the last five seasons.
That contrasts with seven from Ulster, four from Munster and three from Connacht. Those closely involved at county and provincial level are finding it difficult to figure out why so many of the 11 teams (Kilkenny don't compete) are struggling at the same time.
"Dublin going so well has really highlighted the gap between them and the others. Without Dublin, we would have a very competitive Leinster championship but you'd have concerns with the standard.
"Obviously, it would be great for Leinster if a few counties came forward to challenge Dublin and hopefully it will happen over the next few years. There's a lot of good work going on in all the counties.
"There's no easy answer why the gap has widened to the degree it has - if there was, it would be closed," said Reynolds.
While it's no shame to be some way behind Dublin, the failure to keep pace with rivals from other provinces is a matter of serious concern for the various counties.
Louth, who were promoted from Division 3 last year, have lost their five league games by an average of more than 10 points, while Offaly, Wexford and Wicklow have also conceded considerably more than they scored.
The poor showing by so many Leinster teams in the league doesn't augur well for the championship, which continues to operate under a system not favoured by most of the counties.
A few years ago, Leinster proposed the introduction of a round-robin format for the early stages of their championship but it was shot down at Congress, despite not impacting on the other three provinces.
It received a 61-39pc majority, which would be enough to get through now, but a two-thirds majority was required at that stage.
"It's something that's worth looking at again. The only issue to be decided then was whether we would have two groups of four or two groups of three. There was support for it in Leinster but unfortunately, it didn't get the required two-thirds majority at Congress. I would like to see it tried to gauge if it made any difference," said Reynolds.
He also supports the introduction of a second-tier championship, provided it was given the required backing to raise its profile.
"It's worth trying. The various tiers have worked well in hurling and there's no reason why it wouldn't work in football.
"Counties want to compete in their provincial championships but after that a well-run secondary competition for lower-ranked teams could work," said Reynolds.
Based on recent and current trends, Leinster would be well represented in a second tier competition as it's now possible they could have as many as eight - and possible even nine - in Divisions 3 and 4 next year.