How the GAA can help itself, local communities and Ireland

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This is the season within seasons …

  • its the championship season for both hurling and football
    • every village in Ireland has its bunting up in support of their team
    • everyone is talking about “their chances this year”
    • but half of the counties are already bemoaning their early exits
  • its already the height of the tourism season
    • and every village is freshly painted, with fresh flower beds and signs
    • everyone is talking about the Tidy Towns competition
    • and their hopes for their “business prospects this year”

Fáilte Ireland have announced record figures for visitors, so someone must be making money. But the only ‘downer’ is the early exits from the championships for 16 of the 32 counties … and 8 will be out completely after the first round of qualifiers !

Its just not good enough … its usually the same 16 counties each year !

  • In football, 13 counties have never won an All-Ireland SF Championship
  • In hurling, 21 counties have never won an All-Ireland SH Championship
  • And its unlikely to change as only the successful counties attract BIG sponsorship
  • And attendances are unlikely to increase either

So, the GAA have to do something about it and they have to do it now … while they still have the power to do so because sometime very soon, the big-spending TV sponsors and their advertisers will be telling them what to do, how to do it, when to do it and where to do it !

By having a champions league format of 8 groups of 4, seeded by National League position, the GAA could guarantee each county 14 competitive games per championship season (7 in each code).

  • This would give the players something to look forward to
  • This would give the fans of the less successful counties something better
  • A guarantee of 6 home games (3 in each code) would give local business something too
    • And the local sponsors
    • And the tourists
    • And the TV channels and their advertisers

The seeding would re-invigorate the National Leagues and running an All-Ireland B competition for the 3rd/4th placed teams would give them a guaranteed seventh game – 3rd placed teams in the groups play at home.

  • The chance of winning an “All-Ireland B” title would, in my opinion, more than make up for the demise of the provincial championships where some counties can play 2 games and call themselves champions.

What can we do ?

  • GAA club secretaries should write into GAA HQ requesting a change
  • GAA county boards should do likewise
  • Every GAA fan in the country (and abroad) should email them here
  • Then share this post on Facebook, Twitter and any other social media platform you can think of

Happy St Patrick’s Day

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Happy St Patrick's Day
Happy St Patrick’s Day

The sponsorship divide at GAA county level can only be fixed via an open draw

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I read with interest today, an article in the Irish Independent by Donnchadh Boyle, entitled “GAA sponsorship deals highlight rich-man, poor-man divide” and he started by saying that “Elite counties’ financial muscle creating uneven playing field that gives ‘have-nots’ little chance of upsetting (the established) order.”

Sorry, Donnacha, I completely disagree with your assessment.

The sponsorship divide is a merely a symptom of the problem – the real problem is value for money from the sponsors’ perspective.

  • Who is going to sponsor a county for €1m that goes out in the first round of their provincial c’ship and in the first round of the qualifiers?
  • Who would sponsor Dublin if they had to play in front of 10,000 spectators in an out-dated rural setting?
  • Dublin, Cork, Kerry and Tyrone get great sponsorship deals because they are successful
  • Success = getting to a quarter-final every year, or a semi-final most years

The GAA recognize this.

  • That is why Dublin play championship matches at Croke Park
  • Ask any player if he’s prefer playing in front of 80,000 people or 10,000 and there is only one answer
  • That is also why Cork and Kerry are kept apart in the opening rounds of the Munster C’ship

The GAA, as an organisation, has not come as far as it has without due regard to finances.  They have, as far as possible, re-invested their profits wisely and the proliferation of first class facilities at club level in every county is now the envy of all other Irish sports.

  • The facilities are unrecognizable from when I played in Dublin in the 1970’s and 80’s
  • The coaching standards are also unrecognizable when I played
  • The participation levels are also phenomenal

Far from being resentful, I am filled with pride at how much the GAA scene has improved.

In my opinion, the ‘big counties’ are good value for their sponsorship money because they all get to the quarter-finals regularly.

  • Their sponsors expect a quarter-final as a minimum and these counties deliver.
  • It is a bonus if they can win a provincial c’ship but if they don’t there’s always the (back-door) qualifier route

The so-called ‘weaker counties’ get knocked out in the first round of their provincial c’ship and get one more game in the qualifiers.

Who is going to sponsor a county that plays TWO championship games in front of less than 10,000 spectators?

The sponsorship divide at GAA county level can only be fixed via an open draw.

An open, seeded draw with 8 groups of 4 teams is the only way forward.

This means that all 8 of the weakest counties get to play at least one of the Top 8 counties – home and away !

  • Their players get to play at a big stadium (Croker, Semple, or Pairc Ui Chaoimh)
  • Their county town gets to host one of the Top 8 counties too
  • Each county is guaranteed 6 games in the group stage + one at the knock-out stage in both hurling and football
  • This is 250% more games than many counties get at present
  • Their potential sponsors would also get 250% more exposure (7 games in each code)
  • Every county gets to play in the ‘Last 16’ (top 2 in each group play in the A C’ship and bottom 2 play in the B C’ship)

Instead of just keeping Cork and Kerry apart, we’d be keeping the Top 8 apart for the first 6 games.

  • This would negate the arguments re which province is hardest to get out of
  • This would negate the argument re lack of match practice for the provincial winners
  • This would negate the argument that Dublin have an unfair advantage at Croke Park
  • This would ensure a level playing field for all

The only way teams can get better is by playing teams that are better than they are.

Playing two games a year is not the answer.

And playing two games a year is not going to find them sponsors either.

Ask anyone in Leitrim would they like to play Dublin at Croke Park or at home … and the result would probably be split 80/20 in favour of Croke Park (a great day out for both players and spectators).  Have Leitrim ever played Dublin, Kerry or Tyrone in football ?  Or Kilkenny, Cork or Tipperary in hurling ?

How many times have Leitrim played at Croke Park, Semple Stadium or Pairc Ui Chaoimh ???

An open draw gives them a 1 in 8 chance of playing at Croke Park – the current system gives them almost zero chance of doing so.

An open draw also makes stadium improvements more likely in the so-called ‘weaker counties’ home venues.

Ask them if they’s prefer  home and away fixtures … and I guarantee 100% in favour.

Maybe there’s room for another 8 teams, i.e. 8 groups of 5 counties.

London, Warwickshire, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow … and three others ?

  • Dublin v London at Wembley or the London Olympics Stadium ???
  • Kerry v Manchester at Old Trafford or City of Manchester Stadium ???
  • Mayo v Liverpool at Anfield or Goodison Park ???
  • Donegal or Tyrone v Glasgow at Celtic Park ???  (or Ibrox)

FYI – GAA has already been played Wembley – Kerry v Down in 1961 (Pathé Newsreel)

But that’s an debate for another post.

Dublin v London, Wembley



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.

SkySports GAA – the verdict so far ???

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Have you seen the SkySports coverage of the GAA this weekend?

Sky Sports GAA twitter cover

What did you think?





Will Sky ‘block’ RTE’s broadcast of the All-Ireland semi-finals and final

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On Thursday 3rd April 2014, The Irish Times reported that the GAA have confirmed details of their deal with Sky Sports, with the satellite broadcaster securing rights to 20 games in this year’s All-Ireland football and hurling championships.

Under the terms of the deal, Sky Sports will broadcast

  • 14 matches exclusively on the pay-per-view channel
  • while also securing non-exclusive rights to the All-Ireland hurling and football semi-finals and finals.

The big question is “How will Sky treat their existing subscribers who receive RTE as part of their standard package?”

Will they deny access to RTE’s coverage of the All-Ireland hurling and football semi-finals and finals to their subscriber base?

i.e. both sets of ‘live’ games will be shown simultaneously.


Summer is here – it must be All-Ireland c’ship time !

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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.