Summer is here and every little village and ‘clachan’ in the land is festooned with their county flags – it must be All-Ireland time. It happens every year and it ‘livens up’ the countryside – flags and bunting of all colours outside the houses, along the shop fronts and on the ESB poles. Even if you’re not a GAA supporter, it’s a sure sign that summer is finally here.
Even if the county goes out in the first round – as 16 of them do every year, the flags stay aloft until they fade … and are removed for another year. The magic of the championship is intoxicating – it’s what makes players train through the worst months of the year, it’s what gets fans talking, it’s what get whole counties excited … but wouldn’t be better if they had more to look forward to than just one provincial match + ‘back door’ one qualifier game?
The 16 counties that get knocked out early each year … and, yes, it’s more or less the same counties each year … deserve better from the GAA. They can only get better if they play against better opposition, so the only way forward for them is to vote for an open draw at the next GAA conference. There are 16 of these counties – more than enough to make a change actually happen.
The potential benefits for these so-called ‘weaker counties’ are huge :-
- a guaranteed 7 championship games for both hurling and football
- an annual championship season that last a minimum of 7 weeks, not 2 weeks
- a guaranteed 3 games at home for both hurling and football
- a guaranteed 3 games away (2 in bigger stadiums than they are used to playing in)
Yes, this also means a lot more televised games, so there’s room for TG3 and Setanta to stay on board. It also means that there’s more advertising slots for local advertisers. It also means there’s more jobs for TV crews and the more competition we have, the better the coverage gets. Many people liked what TG3 and Setanta were doing. Many felt it wasn’t fair to just dump them.
There is also a lot of debate about ‘player burnout’ and ‘injuries decimating squads’ at the moment. A good solution, in my opinion, would be to shadow the senior competitions with Intermediate, Junior and U21 competitions. This would give the fans a great boost with 4 games to attend / watch for the 6 weekends in each code. It also gives the sponsors / advertisers a 12-week campaign to plan – a much better marketing prospect than the usual “2 games and you’re gone” for the weaker counties.
- Playing in the lower divisions of the National Leagues does not help improve standards
- Playing on muddy pitches in the worst weather of the year doesn’t improve standards either
- Neither of the above is attractive to players, fans, sponsors or advertisers
So let’s not kid ourselves, playing against Dublin at Parnell Park in the National League or the O’Byrne Cup is no substitute for playing them in front of 79,000 screaming fans on the carefully manicured pitch at Croke Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon. This is an experience you simply don’t get in the League, or the O’Byrne Cup. The short walk from O’Connell Street, the North Strand, or Dorset Street simply doesn’t compare to trying to find your way through the ‘burbs to Parnell Park on a damp March day either. Championship games are the big day out for all concerned.
So, what about the provincial championships? What would we do with them? Yes, they’re important. Yes, they’re a great tradition. But what value do they have? The Connaught and Ulster SHC’s have been de-valued by Galway and Antrim going into the Leinster SHC. In football the provincial scene is more balanced with all four provinces playing to a high standard and teams from all four see themselves as All-Ireland contenders – but its harder to get our of Leinster and Ulster than the other two due to more teams being involved. Connaught and Munster winners argue they are lacking match fitness by winning these provincial crowns, whereas the losers have several tough qualifiers before they play them again. We have now seen several years where none of the SFC semi-finalists were provincial champions.
It’s time for change.
Its time for a level playing field.
- Use the National Leagues as seeding competitions
- If a county cannot finish in the ‘Top 32’ in the League, they don’t play in the All-Ireland series
- Have an open, seeded draw for the All-Ireland series (8+8+8+8 levels)
- Eight groups of four teams
Keep the provincial championships if the fans want them but, with Semple Stadium less than half full yesterday for a game between two evenly matched sides from Tipperary and Limerick (and many of the fans turning up late), I have to question how badly the fans want to keep the provincial championships.
- Top finishing team plays at home in Last 16 stage
- Runners-up plays away in Last 16 stage
- Third team plays at home in Last 16 stage of All-Ireland B C’ship
- Bottom team in group plays away in Last 16 stage of All-Ireland B C’ship
- Scores against bottom team do not count for ‘points difference’
For a more in-depth analysis of my ideas, please click on the links below to my other blog posts on this subject.
- Where will all the SkySports GAA money go?
- Will the new SkySPorts GAA deal be good for Gaelic Games?
- Will the new SkySports GAA deal mean higher club fees for members?
- Re-vamp the All-Ireland Championships
- The economic and social benefits of re-vamping the All-Ireland Championships