Traditional rigid system of inequality imprisons the modern GAA
Ailing championship structure badly in need of a revised format
Cork’s Daniel Goulding in action against Clare’s Ger Quinlan in the Munster football championship at Ennis last week. Munster has proved football’s most caste-ridden province. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Where would the GAA be without its traditions? That’s not entirely a rhetorical question but any satisfactory answer would be fairly complicated. Tradition is at the heart of the games’ appeal – the routine and the repetition of the season and the provincial championships with their long-standing rivalries of varying levels of competitiveness.
But it’s also the underlying reason for much of the association’s innate conservatism: that’s the way it’s always been done. It also underpins the gross inequality of the representative system, based on counties of vastly differing sizes and resources and provincial structures, which make optimal championship formats impossible.
On top of all of that it has helped to frame states of mind and attitudes, which appear to govern rigidly the power relationships between so many of those counties. These have been particularly prominent in recent weeks.
“Look, none of the teams in Division Four and Three – and Two for that matter – have given any of the top teams any sort of a game and that’s a bit worrying, isn’t it?”
It may be but it’s been that way for a long time. Roscommon have to go back 12 years for the last championship win over Mayo. It’s fair to say that the margins between the best and the rest have recently been lengthening – Roscommon ran Mayo to two points as recently as 2011 – but the traditional priorities have always asserted themselves.
The Football Review Committee, under the chairmanship of Eugene McGee, having had some success in addressing deficiencies in the rule book, is currently looking at possible championship format change. McGee’s byword in all of the FRC’s dealings has been feasibility: don’t try and fly daft kites in the hope of attracting support.
But the tension between that guiding principle and the need to achieve something is considerable.
It’s no secret that the format thought most likely to succeed is the realignment of the championship into four groups of eight as opposed to the somewhat psychedelic distribution of a perfectly symmetrical 32 counties into groups of five, six, nine and 12.
Yet in the light of tradition how likely is that to succeed? Top-of-the-head reallocations tend to involve the moving of Donegal into Connacht, along with say, Longford and Westmeath and maybe Wexford in with the Munster counties. Presumably provincial names would be dropped but I haven’t detected any likelihood of Donegal meekly surrendering its Ulster identity to become a component part of Conference West or whatever it might be called.