If I’m honest about it, I’m not hearing the noise. The provincial football championships are racing through at breakneck speed and there is something not quite right about it. There’s ducking and diving and dodging going on against a lot of other sports – the Champions League, Heineken Cup, the endgame to the English Premier League – that it is all so hectic just now and they’re getting lost in the midst of it all.
It is like bumper cars; and I think the GAA are losing!
Why do I say that? The provincial football championships are competing with so many sporting goings-on everywhere that they are aren't cutting it in terms of box office. Apart from Ulster, which remains competitive, and to an extent Connacht, they are just not attractive enough to go up against those other sports and it again makes you wonder about the decision to change the scheduling so that it is all over by the end of July and a shiny Sam Maguire Cup will be out of sight apart from being paraded around schools and clubs wherever it ends up.
Unfortunately the GAA are like a boat turning in the water decision-wise, and you’ve still got this 60-40 majority you’ve to get at congress for anything to happen. That’s archaic and you just can’t progress. Every other sport we are competing with – be it soccer, or rugby or whatever – can make real-time decisions based on commerciality and for the good of their games.
The GAA has given away its best two months of the intercounty calendar – in August and September – when it had the stage to itself and was the only show in town. I felt it in Páirc Uí Rinn on Saturday evening, not enough noise, and I'm fearful it'll be the same in Croke Park this Sunday for the Leinster semi-finals but especially for the Dublin-Meath game.
I was obviously at the Cork-Kerry match and the stadium, even though the venue was small with a capacity of 11,000, it wasn't anywhere near full. Maybe people stayed at home to watch the Munster rugby match? Whatever the reason, it was a very poor attendance.
It was a non-event, that's the reality of it and the appetite wasn't there. Kerry knew they were going to win and Cork knew Kerry were going to win. And Cork people, which I never saw before, settled for a 50-minute effort. Cork people were never like that. I'm sure Roy Keane watching wasn't happy with that either.
The most interesting aspect of the Dublin-Meath game is to see where Dublin are at. We've a fair idea where Meath are at. We'd a fair idea of where Cork were at. Paddy Power got the spread right at 12 points against Cork and it'll be interesting to see how they call the Dublin-Meath game.
Dublin against Meath should be box office. But when did we think we’d have a day when there would be more interest in the women’s Dublin versus Meath match than the men’s Dublin-Meath? That’s the way it has gone.
I think the Derry-Monaghan Ulster semi-final actually has the top billing of the games this weekend and there was a time when that match-up would never have competed with Meath going up against Dublin.
Dublin-Meath was an amazing rivalry we grew up on and Meath, like Cork, don’t have any excuses on why it has come to what it is: they have the population, a commuter belt county, they have the numbers, the bodies, the structures in place, but they haven’t kicked on and that’s not good for anyone in Gaelic football.
Any of the people I’ve spoken to are all saying the same thing, that the Meath factor has gone out of this fixture. Similar to Cork with Kerry. Meath have put themselves in a position, a bit like Cork, where they can’t be taken seriously at this level, and that’s where they are at, like it or not. Can they fix it? Of course they can. There’s a lot of good people in Meath football, they’re a very proud county. But that’s also why it is so hard to see them in their current plight.
Dublin are the team I’m interested in watching this weekend, to see where they’re at right now. They’re smarting from their league campaign, and it shows you the mentality of the Dublin team in apologising for being relegated.
So, yes, for me, Dublin are the team to watch, similar to Kerry in '84 where they got the kick in the arse and had been written off
From my point of view, wearing the Kerry cap, I’m lamenting the fact Dublin are relegated from Division One.
Ultimately Dublin defined Division One. For all the National League games the last few years, they were the benchmark and, like Manchester United back in the day, you redoubled your efforts. If you wanted to get a fair measure of yourself you marked yourself against Dublin. The Dubs were never off duty because every team wanted to have a cut off them and then for a finish in that six-in-a-row spell, not alone were Dublin playing the opposition but the referees too. When you get that successful, decisions tend not to go your way after a while.
So, yes, for me, Dublin are the team to watch, similar to Kerry in '84 where they got the kick in the arse and had been written off. There's too many good players to lie down and take that. James McCarthy, Ciarán Kilkenny, Con O'Callaghan, Brian Fenton. All these Dublin players are not going to lie down, they'll be thinking, 'they think we have gone away, we haven't'. There was a bit of anger on show against Wexford. I'll be looking out for a bit of anger in their football again this weekend.
But the issue remains that the provincial championships as it is now has become boring and, while we are not marketing it properly, there’s also the point our product isn’t good enough to compete with the other sports – in the dodgems – as we speed through May.
The Munster football final will be Kerry versus Limerick or Tipperary in Killarney in a few weeks and that's going to be a three o'clock game because the Champions League Final is on and, with the games we're producing, we can't compete with that. The GAA are dodging going head-on because the product isn't good enough.
As opposed to avoiding a showdown with it like a boxer avoiding a good contender, they’re avoiding meeting up with these head-on, because we can’t compete . . . it’s a marketing disaster from the GAA’s point of view at a time we’re struggling at rural level to get teams on the pitch. I see a lot in Kerry of clubs amalgamating. We need to have showcases. We need to make it attractive for young boys and girls to get involved again. We need better marketing and we need better games.
And I do believe it comes back to down to the provincial championships – apart from Ulster and Connacht – being too boring and the GAA know the problem is there but are happy to keep kicking the can down the road.
Change takes too long to come about. If this was happening in rugby or soccer the decision would be made and it would be done. We have to go to congress and it is a convoluted mechanism to get the job done. It is outdated. You have to have a committee that can make decisions in real time, to make commercial decisions and to drop the hammer on it. For the betterment of the GAA, decisions have to happen quicker.
I know all about the reasons for the changes in the playing calendar but you can be certain those club games won’t be played in August, there’s loads of leagues to be finished off, and we’re missing out on the best dates in the calendar year to showcase our games. We had them, in August and September, and we gave them away and instead we’re competing now with Heineken Cup and Champions League finals and stuff like that which never before was the case.