219 days before it begins, the 2020 Munster senior football championship draw, along with Connacht’s, was to take place on RTÉ Radio this morning. The championship draw has long been underwhelming, but even more so since the provincial hurling competitions moved from knock-out to round-robin and were therefore removed.
In terms of marketing, the seven month-plus gap between the draws and action does not do the GAA many favours, but as an amateur organisation, as much notice as possible is required, they will argue. But coupled with the staleness and predictability of the provincial football championships, this week’s events are merely a delay in the inevitable.
Westmeath have lost their last three championship matches to Dublin by an aggregate of 59 points and news of their impending doom need not have been broadcast over the national airwaves, but, instead, released like an FAI statement, late on a Saturday night.
Mapping the 2020 Ulster SFC tomorrow — where, for the first time, the preliminary round teams (Derry and Tyrone) will receive a bye into next season’s quarter-finals — will attract most interest, but it won’t set any pulses racing.
The new draw format is a peculiar creature — RTÉ sources tell us it was Croke Park’s idea. Some will tell you that it’s overkill, dragging what used to be an hour-long show out over three mornings.
Others might say that on radio it has at least been veiled: no look of dejection on Colm Collins’s face, as Clare were drawn on the same side of the Munster SFC draw as Kerry last year, for the fifth time in six seasons; or realistic Leitrim stalwart Emlyn Mulligan admitting on live TV it would be hard to be motivated, having drawn Division 1 team Roscommon.
Such negativity is not what the GAA want, but avoiding it is impossible. Should the second tier championship version be introduced at special congress on Saturday week, it’s going to be a whole lot worse.
A Division 3 or 4 Leinster team being pitted against Dublin, this time next year, might as well be handed their death warrant. The inevitable defeat will consign them to the ‘B’ competition. Exactly what incentive will there be for their players, when all they will amount to is fodder?
The need for a second tier championship is great, but not as it has been proposed and certainly not when there are no extra games for the developing counties. Instead of attempting to get rid of Division 3 and 4 teams from the Sam Maguire Cup, as soon as possible, in a reheated Tommy Murphy Cup, they should be provided with more matches, before taking on the stronger sides.
We’ve written here before about the advantages of the weaker outfits playing round-robin games against one another, to generate momentum going into a provincial semi-final against a Division 1 team or even the loftier Division 2 teams. It’s more likely they will lose, but at least the extra matches will give them a better chance of catching their more vaunted opposition cold.
Outside of providing more financing to those counties, and providing them with home advantage in such ties, it’s the best form of equalisation the GAA can achieve. Wouldn’t the best two teams in a group featuring Collins’s Clare, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford be sharper on the back of three matches, before facing Cork and Kerry in semi-finals?
By all means, introduce a ‘B’ competition, but not until every Division 3 and 4 team has had at least two provincial outings against opposition of similar strength. Without the guarantee of at least one extra match and a more equitable pathway in the Sam Maguire Cup, there is not enough incentive for weaker counties to get behind the motion.
TV coverage, “a range of marketing and promotional supports,” an All-Stars scheme, and holidays have been offered as the carrots for those demoted to ‘T2’ (as Croke Park have referred to it). Nevertheless, the proof of such will be in the eating and how long before those hurling in the Joe McDonagh Cup understandably ask for the same?
In identifying the need for a second tier in football, GAA president, John Horan, is on the right track, but he is careering so much that he is in danger of derailing. He might not mind that the CPA and GPA are in the opposing corner, but there is a distinct chance he is undermining the very fixtures review committee he set up.
Seeking 60% support from delegates in Páirc Uí Chaoimh is attainable, particularly when the international vote is getting stronger. However, there are sure to be impassioned arguments against a motion that is too clean and too basic in its consideration of what inter-county Gaelic football really needs.
For an accomplished businessman, who only early this year took on the might of McDonald’s and won, it was unusual that Supermac’s founder Pat McDonagh would go public with what he has contributed to Galway GAA these last five years.
Such information is usually commercially sensitive and just two years into his latest five-year agreement with the board it asks several questions such as apart from transparency, does he also want out when potential rival sponsors know what offer they have to beat, and is there something he knows that the Galway executive doesn’t?
As long as he has been patronising Galway GAA, McDonagh’s figures illustrate he is getting a pretty sweet deal. Exclusive food and beverage rights in Pearse Stadium represent an element of quid pro quo and he has maximised the image rights associated with the Galway jersey in his various outlets.
His demand for clarification, while it might have been more suited to being sought behind closed doors, will, pardon the pun, have curried favour with club members who still have not received answers about where their money has been going.
For all the work being done on the basis of last year’s two audits, nobody has been held accountable for the financial difficulties Galway GAA have encountered. The stink of bad governance remains.
On top of this, now that Tony Ward has removed himself from the process the two nominations to replace hurling boss Micheál Donoghue are opposed to working with chairman Pat Kearney, which was believed to be the primary reason why Donoghue left the manager’s position in the first place.
Can all this unrest be connected? It would hardly be surprising in a county where the impulse to shoot themselves in the foot is notoriously strong.
Of course it wasn’t how Donal Moloney wanted things to end but there was a touch of dying by the sword he had lived by when deciding to step out of the race to become Clare manager due to board uncertainty.
Certainly, the former co-boss had done enough for his county not to be strung along in recent weeks, though it could be argued he should have known the writing was on the wall when he was asked to reapply for the role in the first place.
In his time as joint-manager alongside Gerry O’Connor, both men spoke of the high standards that they had set themselves and how stepping down would have been on the cards had they not beaten Tipperary last year.
An All-Ireland semi-final replay convinced them that they were getting closer to the Holy Grail but a flat 2019 championship campaign should have proven not just to O’Connor that they had brought Clare as far as they could.
It now appears a straight shoot-out between Brian Lohan and Louis Mulqueen for the vacancy and smart money will favour the latter given Lohan’s past condemnations of the board.