When championship football is no longer a game but death by lethal injection, when Dublin keep driving nail after nail into the coffin of their opposition, when there is no pleasure in it anymore and not any hope of things changing, then how much longer can it keep going on like this?
That's not a question easily answered, and yet if there is any lesson in Dublin's 27-point defeat of Longford – a record victory between the counties in the Leinster championship – then at least Jack Sheedy had the courage to say it: no, it can't keep going on like this.
The Longford manager, and former Dublin All-Ireland winner, clearly isn’t arguing for arguments sake. He’d brought his team to Croke Park believing in the impossible, only for the impossible to become perfectly apparent – the only consolation being it could have been even worse.
“Any time you lose is never easy, but when you lose like that, to a team with that much superiority, it just shows the level of the gulf in standards,” said Sheedy, who delivered this from a standing position inside the press conference room under the Hogan Stand.
“We came here, hoping, or expecting, to put on a real good performance, and they did, to a certainly extent, but were just steamrolled by a team at a hugely different level. And I don’t see anyone taking Dublin to the wire at the moment.
“So, either take Dublin out of the Leinster championship, and leave it to the rest of us, or else there has to be a new format, it needs to be reviewed. Because who is going to get within 15 points of Dublin? Possibly Meath are the only team that are equipped to do that within Leinster.
“I think we have a fantastic game, a fantastic product, but we’re losing people going to the games because it’s not attractive, it’s not interesting. There’s nothing big there to come and watch, and it’s disappointing because we’ve gone away from the traditional values of what the game was about. So I really think we really need to review it.”
Sheedy also had the courage to take on Dublin at their own game, rather than throw 15 men behind the ball, which may have at least lessoned the margin of defeat: yet that would hardly have concealed the now gaping cracks in the championship structure.
“Putting 15 guys behind the ball was not going to improve how they play football, so no I wouldn’t have wanted to do it.
“And we don’t have the resources to do what some teams can do in Croke Park with Dublin. We don’t have the physical resources to do that so we felt it was better that we try and go with what we were doing all season and play to our strengths.”
So to the alternatives, because while Dublin manager Jim Gavin, in his typically democratic view of these days, suggested any discussion on changes to the championship is for the off-season, Sheedy at least was open to that debate.
“I don’t have the answer, but whatever way it’s done, that it’s attractive and that there’s a progressive element to it. But coming here, for that, is of no great benefit to us or anybody else. I just think there’s a lot of very smart people involved in the GAA across the board, from management up to the powers that be in Croke Park itself.
Grasp the nettle
“Surely we can get all the heads together. If it’s a company, an organisation, why can’t we get all the heads together and look to improve it? Somebody needs to grasp the nettle and say let’s sit down and make it because it’s a fantastic sport. We have one of the best stadiums in the world let alone the country. Why don’t we look at making it a better spectacle?”
There may well be better spectacles before the Leinster championship is done, although Sheedy wasn’t predicting one. “Dublin will do that, or probably something close to it, whether it’s Laois or Kildare the next day. There’s a good chance they will. So the real test for Dublin will be in August, and this isn’t even good preparation, because they need sterner tests, need a more balanced challenge, from other teams.”
So to Gavin, who was never going to be anything less than calm with the outcome no matter how easy it proved for Dublin.
“We will take a lot from it,” said Gavin. “We had not looked beyond this game, so nothing else has been discussed in the camp. We will talk about it tonight, of course, but until we had won it was not mentioned. We had a job to do and I am very satisfied that they did that.”
Still, did the 27-point winning margin not beg the question of how much longer it can keep going on like this?
“We were just focused on getting the performance today. I’m in the middle of starting a campaign and my focus shifts to the next game.”