GAA Player fatigue, public apathy or just a poor product?

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Its July and the first of the provincial finals have been played – so how is the world of Gaelic games? Yes, the big boys are back in business and the same old cant is being repeated by the media, the public (via social media) and by the county boards. Too many games / too few games, the importance of the provincial championships / the lack of interest in the qualifiers and the poor attendances at the games.

Player Fatigue v Lack of Match Fitness

Let’s start with the charge of player fatigue. Galway were, arguably, stretched by the need to play three championship games against top class opposition on three weekends in a row. This cannot be blamed on planning as one of these games was a replay, and Kilkenny had the same problem, i.e. three games in a row within the same time period and it didn’t seem to affect them in the slightest against the Dubs in Croke Park today.

So, player fatigue seems to be a myth. Two teams – two different results!

The opposite to this argument is one of “lack of match fitness” and pundits (paid or otherwise) often quote the fact that some provincial champions lose their edge as they wait for the qualifiers to finish and come up against a battle-hardened team that has just fought their way through a tough series of qualifiers. Well, Tipperary have been (allegedly) sitting around for six weeks waiting for Galway and they didn’t look like they were lacking match practice today at Semple Stadium.

Public Apathy or GAA Apathy towards the Public?

After serving up such a thriller in their first (drawn) game, the Leinster Council rejected moves by RTÉ to provide live coverage of the Leinster semi-final replay involving Galway and Kilkenny. When RTÉ informed the provincial council they would televise the fixture provided there was a 2.30pm throw-in on Saturday, their offer was turned down by the Leinster Council, who expressed concern that an afternoon start would seriously impact on the crowd size.

There was also some vague excuse stating that “The replay has been scheduled for 7pm, but Sky Sports’ presence at the Ulster SFC semi-final between Armagh and Monaghan, also a 7pm start, prevents RTÉ televising the Tullamore fixture.”

Well, in my humble opinion, a 2:30pm start didn’t clash with any of the SkySport games, so why couldn’t they go ahead with a 2:30pm throw-in? Leinster chairman John Horan then chimed in with “We didn’t feel a 2.30pm throw-in was fair to the businesses of Tullamore or the punters, or, indeed, the players.”

After riding rough-shod over public opinion re the SkySports deal, it seemed a little bit perverse that, all of a sudden, the GAA was suddenly so sensitive to third parties.

In the end, the official attendance was announced as 17,059 – just over 4,500 more than the 12,548 who witnessed the first (drawn) game. Obviously the way forward (for everyone) is the televised version. Better for the sponsors, better for the public and better for the GAA – although pandering to SkySports (whose priorities clearly lay elsewhere that afternoon) is a moot point.

The GAA need to get it into their heads that the public is NOT interested in the early rounds of the summer championships – the attendance figures clearly show this.  Poor planning, spineless decision-making and a lack of imagination at the top levels are negatively impacting the development of Gaelic Games and ad hoc “live” coverage / missed opportunities only makes this even more transparent.

A Poor Product?

The summer championships (provincial championships, qualifiers and later All-Ireland fixtures) is a poor product – flawed by a legacy of two non-competitive provincial championships in hurling and two sparsely populated championships in football.

In 130 years of the All-Ireland championships,
• no Ulster county has won a SHC
• only one county from Connaught has done so

Since the inauguration of the Munster SFC, how many times has a county (apart from Cork and Kerry) won a Munster SFC?
• Answer = 13
• Cork (37) and Kerry (76) have won 113 Munster SFC’s between them – as such, the Munster SFC can only really be considered important to Cork and Kerry supporters.

Since the inauguration of the Connacht SFC, Galway and Mayo have dominated. Okay, Roscommon have won it 20 times (against Galway and Mayo’s 44 and 45, respectively) but Sligo and Leitrim have only won it 5 times between them – hardly a competitive championship and the also the smallest with only 5 counties, now up to six with London being involved.

The most appalling flaw in the current setup is the simple fact that many counties go out with just two games played, i.e. one provincial game and one qualifier game. This is not fair on the players, not fair on the counties involved and is not fair to their supporters.

In order to improve their standards,
• They need more games
• They need games against top class opposition

The solution

• Use the National Leagues as a seeding competition for the All-Ireland series
• Scrap the provincial championships
• Utilise a Champions League format, with 8 groups of 4 teams playing “home and away”
• Shadow the senior c’ship with U.21, Intermediate and Junior competitions
• Use these qualifying groups to populate subsequent All-Ireland “A” and ”B” championships
• Every county is guaranteed at least 7 championship games in each code
• Every county is guaranteed at least 3 home fixtures in each code

This would produce a better competition, larger crowds and better playing standards.

Let’s be honest, the qualifiers are only an opportunity for “the stronger counties” to avoid a “one game and out” result. They do nothing for the “weaker counties” apart from offering them one extra game – hardly a strategy for long term improvement.

The so-called stronger counties are now whinging about “their season is over too early” when two strong counties meet in the early qualifier rounds, e.g. Kilkenny and Tipperary last year + Galway and Tipperary this year.

It would also produce more local revenue streams, more sponsorship opportunities and more TV revenue for the GAA. The idea that GAA matches are arranged so that they do not clash with other sporting events is spineless and weak.

Every weekend there is something on – so rather than avoid them, the GAA should be out there providing entertainment for true blue GAA fans – not soccer fans or horseracing fans that watch GAA only when their own sports are not on.

The GAA must recognise the fact that not all GAA fans can attend GAA matches, so not televising replayed fixtures is a bad strategy.


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