Sean Moran: Mismatches will continue until the GAA sees sense

The counties most adversely affected by current structures refuse to accept need for change

Bernard Brogan celebrates a goal for Dublin in the 27-pt defeat of Longford. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Bernard Brogan celebrates a goal for Dublin in the 27-pt defeat of Longford. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

With the politics of the last atrocity now in full flow, it’s as well to remind ourselves of the central realities about the GAA and its championships: the structure underpinning them is and always has been crackers and it endures because those most adversely affected wish it to.

In the drive by the founding fathers to give voice to local identity and its associated rivalries, a championship evolved that was based on the 32 counties of Ireland, ostensibly a perfect number for running sports competitions?

Instead the carve-up was five, six, nine and 12.

All sports have issues with population and demographic disparities but of these 32, a relatively obscure county on the east coast would end up with 28 per cent of the national population.

It would get to play matches against units with the more constrained choice of, say, 38,970 people – around three per cent of the bigger rival – and when the inevitable happened there would be a great uproar.

The two most obvious questions are: one, the scale of the problem and two, possible solutions?

The problem

The spectre of Dublin’s imminent monopoly of the football championship is unsubstantiated. To date, after a great spell at underage yielding three under-21s and one minor championship, and with two exceptional managers at the helm, the county has managed two senior All-Irelands in four years. Guess how many times a county has been able to say that it has won two All-Irelands in four years?

It’s happened 112 times and 14 counties can say that they made it happen since the All-Ireland started in 1887.

Narrow the focus to Leinster and it’s clear there is a problem. No county in history has previously managed to win nine titles in 10 years in the province.

There are concerns that Dublin’s massive appeal for commercial partners and sponsorship are playing a role in this and that can’t be argued. For instance there have been instances of broadcasters opting for Dublin matches to chase viewership figures even though other fixtures with better competitive prospects are available elsewhere.

So good

But Leinster’s football championship is suffering not just because Dublin are so good but because competition is so poor and one isn’t necessarily the consequence of the other.

The province is at such a low collective ebb at the moment that there are for the second successive year – and for the fourth time in seven seasons – no counties apart from Dublin in Division One of the football league. Next year all of the other provinces have at least two representatives at the top level.

Will Dublin’s domination not ultimately be self-defeating for Leinster Council in that the crowds will stop coming? If so there’s no great sign of that happening.

Although there was adverse comment on the size of the crowd that attended the hurling quarter-final, the double bill attendance of 33,544 was the highest opening weekend in six years at Croke Park outside of double bills featuring the Meath footballers.

Two obvious solutions suggest themselves. Firstly make Dublin travel outside Croke Park for a few provincial matches and that might thin the winning margins even if it wouldn’t alter the outcome. Secondly, introduce graded championships.

These may be obvious but they’ve already been rejected and astonishingly, been rejected by those most affected.

Leinster counties vote to keep Dublin in Croke Park in order to maximise the revenue from gate receipts and counties the country over have an inexplicable attachment to getting trimmed by stronger teams in championship.

As soon as the mild reform of confining Division Four counties to a separate competition, the Tommy Murphy Cup, was introduced in 2007 counties appeared suddenly to realise what they had done and immediately commence campaigning to reinstate the status quo ante, which was eventually successful at the congress of 2008.

Remotest chance

Sam Maguire

Yet the GAA badly needs to encourage the culture of earning a right to compete rather than just exercising it regardless of capacity.

Such a structure wouldn’t eliminate all the mismatches but it would reduce their number. It would also make the league more relevant and competitive.

Until then, the beatings will continue.

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