No need to change the Championship
SO FAR the championship has gone totally according to form. No upsets. No goals in the last seconds to secure emotional victories against the odds, no favourites biting the dust. No nothing.
The critics of the provincial system are having a field day. It is an annual event at this time of year. The opening rounds of the championship not providing us with nail biting action and all the blame being heaped on the poor old provincial championships.
It is an understandable sentiment, particularly when there is the magical 32 counties with eight groups of four sitting like a cherry waiting to be plucked like the most obvious idea since someone decided to invent a bread slicer.
The idea is simple. One team from each of the four divisions which would give the league a bit of jizz and sparkle and link it to the championship because now, relegation and promotion would decide which pool you would be in and how well seeded you would be.
So far so good. So take Group 1 for example. Kerry from Division 1, Derry out of Division 2, Westmeath out of Division 3 and Waterford out of Division 4 and all play each other in a round robin with top team going into the quarter final. Let’s say the first match sees Kerry v Waterford and Derry v Westmeath. Hardly two glamour ties to start with.
Just compare that to Cavan v Ulster champions Donegal which was what we got up here under the current system, with 12,000 fans in Breffni to see it. Derry v Westmeath is hardly the tie we’ve been waiting for and Kerry v Waterford is an all Munster clash anyway, so nothing new here. So from this non-descript start, we see Kerry and Derry on two points apiece and next up is Kerry v Westmeath and Derry v Waterford.
Now I have great respect for the Gaels of Derry and Kerry, but neither county is distinguished at supporting their team, so how many thousands we would have at either of these games is not something we could be optimistic about. And again the result of both games would not be the biggest surprise and now we have Kerry and Derry on 4 each with Westmeath and Waterford still on a duck egg.
And up comes the last two matches. Kerry v Derry in Killarney and Waterford v Westmeath in Mullingar. At last, a glamour tie. Kerry v Derry in a winner takes all cclash, but again a big ask in terms of time and diesel from a county which does not travel in numbers.
Meanwhile, there is crisis in the other two counties because neither manager seems to be able to gather up a panel which is willing to play in such a pointless match. Most students who are on the panel have gone to the US and the rest have no desire to play in an academic fixture.
This is the reality of the Champions League format, so we should put it out of our minds for good. And in case you think I have picked a particular four just to make my point, here’s another quartet; Donegal, Louth, Fermanagh and Leitrim. Is there anything approaching a glamour tie here? Or Cork, Galway, Fermanagh and Carlow. And one last one, Dublin, Laois, Longford and Clare.
Three of these are in Leinster and you could predict right now which team would go on to the quarter final. Even if the system allowed for two teams to qualify for a last 16 effort, you are asking club teams to endure four county matches before there is a last eight, so in order to get rid of half the teams in a 32 team competition, you have to play forty eight matches.
Hardly the most economical way of doing business within an association that has so much else to consider.
So the Provincial system, flawed, skewed, mathematically unjust as it is, is really the only show in town, with the shadow open draw championship going on in the background, with every single game having tangible relevance and with a nodding acknowledgement to the club scene that has to go on and is the beating heart of the GAA.
The champions league format would take club football out by the roots for at least a month, considering the fixtures clear-out for the week preceding the round robin and the three weeks during which the pool stages would take place.
What would our club footballers do during this period? While you’re considering that question, I’ll throw in another couple of groups; Mayo, Tyrone, Sligo and Limerick in a group and Down, Armagh, Meath and Offaly in another.
That last group has one clinker of a fixture, Armagh v Down, but this is because it’s a local derby and we can have these every year in the Provincial system. In fact we had it last year and it provided a fantastic atmosphere, just as Armagh Tyrone will provide on Sunday.
By the time we get to the semi-finals of the provincial championships, all the cannon fodder will have been consigned to the back door where they will probably meet a similar fate as they did in the first round.
In reality, there is Cork, Kerry, Dublin, Kildare and perhaps Tyrone and all the rest are also rans. This is already obvious. We don’t need over fifty matches, traipsing people all over the country to work that out.