Friday 23 August 2019

Martin Breheny: The GAA is flushing promotional gems down the drain

'The All-Ireland calendar change has been an abject failure - and so has the Super 8s'

Shane Dowling scoring a goal for Limerick in one of two spectacular semi-finals – The GAA fails to make the most of the hurling championship. Photo: Sportsfile
Shane Dowling scoring a goal for Limerick in one of two spectacular semi-finals – The GAA fails to make the most of the hurling championship. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

This time last year, we were being warned that to spill even a teaspoon of water was a heinous act of treason.

Most of the lecturing came from Irish Water, who apparently saw no irony in the fact that multiples of the amount allegedly wasted by households were pouring out of leaking pipes deep underground.

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'We're working on that and we'll get there sometime around 2030. In the meantime, don't even think of topping up your windscreen washer,' was the stern message.

The water analogy struck me as particularly apt last Sunday evening as I left Croke Park. It had hosted two spectacularly entertaining hurling semi-finals over the weekend, leaving the public longing for more.

And they'll get more. Well, one game anyway when Kilkenny and Tipperary return for the final on August 18. And then? No more county hurling for 23 weeks, when it resumes on a grim winter's day at the end of January. Given the conditions, the games won't even be a distant cousin of what we saw last weekend, but that's how the schedule works - lots of hurling in January-February-March, but only one game in August and none for the rest of the year.

The GAA have been running advertisements all summer, using the catchline 'this is championship, this is where we all belong.' It's a slick campaign, but like Irish Water telling us to conserve water while the pipes are gushing it into the dark earth, there's a clear contradiction.

Promotion is hugely important in sport, especially nowadays when there are so many choices. Sporting organisations need sharp elbows to avoid being jostled down the queue for public attention.

It's all about maximising their greatest assets which, in the GAA's case, are their championships. Obviously, the closing stages are the real gems, capable of generating a massive promotional bonanza.

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Yet, instead of squeezing every last drop from them, the GAA shoehorn the semi-finals into one weekend each for hurling and football. Only 21 hours and 30 minutes separated throw-in times for the hurling semi-finals last weekend and it will be the same for football on the weekend after next.

Kilkenny and Limerick provided a splendid contest on Saturday, leaving enough talking points to last for several days. But inside 24 hours, the focus had switched to Tipperary v Wexford, which offered even more topics to mull over.

From a promotional viewpoint, it would make sense to play Tipperary v Wexford next weekend, just as there's a clear logic to playing the football semi-finals over two weekends too.

There's no need to have three weeks between the semi-finals and finals, but then there's no need either to play the hurling final on August 18 and football on September 1.

And before the cry goes up, 'What about the clubs', let's deal in the facts from last year, which was the first time all stages of the championships were played so early.

We were told it would provide the club game with a massive boost, but it didn't happen. County finals were as late as in previous years, so what was the point of shortening the inter-county championship season?

Nobody is disputing that the club v county battle for space is a tricky problem, but the answer isn't to cram the championship season, a process which started last year.

It's akin to throwing more money at the HSE without working out why it's required. After Sunday week (August 11), there will be only two inter-county games remaining. That's the weekend when English soccer kicks off and rugby starts its long season too with an Ireland v Italy pre-World Cup loosener.

So just as rival sports crank up - rugby will be huge this autumn because of the World Cup - the GAA winds down, speeding up the process by playing semi-finals over the same weekends. There have even been calls recently for the All-Ireland finals to be played earlier, all in the name of making more time available for the clubs, even if it won't make much difference to them.

What next? Play the inter-county schedule over four months, starting in the depth of miserable January? It makes no sense, especially since it's not necessary. Cramming in fixtures featuring the nuggets that are All-Ireland semi-finals and playing the finals so early is a waste of priceless promotional opportunities.

'This is championship, this is where we belong' may be catchy, but it's fleeting too. In fact, far too fleeting.

'Throwing' continues despite promise of greater vigilance

TJ Reid looked suitably bewildered when penalised for a dodgy handpass against Limerick last Saturday.

Understandably so, since it was a borderline case, certainly by comparison with the many blatant 'throws' others got away with in both hurling semi-finals.

I find it comical that while there has been so much debate on Hawk-Eye's intervention, which produced a point for Wexford and denied Tipperary a goal, and suggestions that video assistance should be introduced to assist with contentious decisions, illegal handpassing continues to be ignored.

How many scores are created by 'throws' at some stage in the build-up? How many defenders get away with throwing the ball to a colleague in a tight situation? It's happening all the time and despite assurances that referees would be more vigilant this year, they have continued as before.

Every so often, a player is penalised, as if to show that refs haven't zapped the rule altogether, but then it's back to 'carry on throwing'.

Yet, for whatever reason, the authorities take no action. Why?

Enough is enough - bin Super 8s

Cork v Roscommon in an irrelevant game for both; Meath have nothing but pride to play for against Kerry; Dublin and Tyrone can field second-string teams if the mood takes them - that's the menu for three of the four Super 8 games next weekend.

Nothing exactly 'super' then, leaving Mayo v Donegal as the only clash with real interest. Last year's final round held direct interest for only four of the eight teams.

Enough is enough - there's no need to continue with the Super 8s experiment for a third year as originally planned.

It has failed in its first two seasons, devaluing the championship as it goes. Yes, it brings games to provincial venues, but that's not sufficient reason to retain it.

Since the system of reaching the quarter-finals isn't equal for all, the top eight teams are most unlikely to get there.

That's definitely the case this year with Cork and Meath, neither of whom beat a team with a league ranking higher than 14th to get there.

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