THE BREAKING BALL: GAA’s latest proposals a cause for concern

Splitting the championship in half might not be the way to go

Manus Boyle


Manus Boyle


THE BREAKING BALL:   GAA’s latest proposals a cause for concern

Last weekend Mayo, Clare, Laois and Tyrone came through another qualifying round to meet the provincial losers in the final round before the Super 8s.
The main talking points were not the great achievement of both Clare and Laois to make it this far in the championship, or Tyrone’s clinical display against a much talked about Kildare or even the usual edge of the seats by a Mayo side ravaged by injury but just doing enough to get over the line.
Yes, they got a mention but the major talking point was the two proposals set out by Croke Park for the introduction of a second tier championship that would change the face of Gaelic football as we know it.
There are those in Donegal that might suggest that it might not concern us; we are on the crest of a wave at the minute with the senior team playing some of their best football in a good few years. However, we have to be mindful of what has happened to the likes of Derry, Cork and Down over the years and if we look back on the poor results in both U-17s and U-20s in the last couple of years, no one can be sure what is around the corner.
What Croke Park are proposing is the break-up of the championship into two sections; for any of those teams from division three or four who do not reach their provincial final they go into a knock-out competition of 16 teams, eight from each of the two aforementioned divisions, thus doing away with two of the qualifying rounds. They also suggested that it would be organised in a northern and southern section just to avoid a lot of travelling. They also said that they would have a dedicated marketing and promotional campaign to spearhead the competition; they also would have a broadcasting unit in place plus there own All-Star awards with a tour to boot.
The second proposal suggested that in case a team from division three or four made the provincial final the worst place team in division two, which didn’t make the provincial final would find themselves in the second tier competition.
Also the proposal suggested the format for the championship would have an initial round of games which then creates a “winners” and “losers” group and so offers beaten counties a way back into the competition.
In using the league as a basis for what competition you play in the championship will certainly give us a very competitive league structure. However, it does create a huge divide between counties in the top two and the bottom two divisions, not as inclusive as we are told the GAA is all about.
What is really behind all of this is simple; they want the top teams playing each other more frequently to raise the standard as it would be a more saleable product for the television companies and sponsors.
What they fail to mention is how the monies would be divided. Are they going to pool the money taken in by both championships? By putting together a package for All-Star awards and a trip abroad do they think that will get the players from the lower division teams on board? Is that what they think players get involved for? Do they really believe that if you get an All-Star award and a couple of days in the sun; that the dream of playing for your county in Croke Park for Sam Maguire is worth selling your soul for a dust collector and a few photographs?
Remember the players will not get a vote on this. The GPA have consistently said that they would not support a second tier championship because it created a divide for their members.
I know that hurling has gone down that road with different cups for the so-called weaker counties, but in hurling very few teams outside the traditional counties have ever got their hands on the Liam McCarthy cup. Football is an easier game to play and develop so it allows teams to be more competitive at football.
This would also be another blow to club football, with teams from all four divisions involved to later in the summer, thus not allowing the so-called weaker counties an opportunity to develop the standard of club football.
So it raises the question, how do the so-called weaker counties improve? While everyone talks of the dominance of Dublin in the last four years and how football has lost its appeal, what is the real reason? Was giving teams, especially the stronger sides, a second opportunity in the championship a good deal for the so-called weaker counties?
Simplifying the rules would help; define the tackle, do away with the black card; teams from division three or four should get home advantage in the championship up until you reach the final of their province.
There are easy and simple steps to take without making a difference of players. It shouldn’t make a difference where you are born. Sport is defined by winners, they are the ones that push everyone to the next level.
Who said that every team should have a chance to win? Who said sport should be fair? There will always be winners and losers. If you want to get to the top, you have to work harder; you have to develop and create the right infrastructure with a long term plan.
The GAA at one time was the cornerstone of communities, but it has changed. It has become a runaway train in a commercial sense. Many would argue the smaller clubs and counties have not seen the reward of that commercial success.
It has lost its connection with the volunteers; splitting the championship in half does not help.