Reduced media profile is not a good reason for counties to shy away from a two-tier Gaelic football championship, argues former Cork manager Brian Cuthbert, who wants the GAA to grasp this opportunity for change and also scrap the minor championship.
GAA president John Horan yesterday confirmed the new fixtures review group will bring forward three proposals on the playing calendar, with the review taking in all levels of the game.
Players and managers from lesser counties have frequently argued their games will be ignored if they are relegated to a second-tier competition. But Cuthbert is adamant this is no reason to maintain the status quo, amid dwindling interest and some one-sided contests.
“It couldn’t be a reason,” Cuthbert said, speaking on this week’s Irish Examiner GAA Podcast.
“On The Sunday Game this week, Longford and Kildare, a massive game, I’d say it was on for three minutes. So regardless of what level of competition they are in, certain counties are going to get certain coverage.
“So whether they are in tier two or tier three, you are still only going to get three minutes on The Sunday Game. That argument doesn’t wash with me at all.
“The top level in any sport is the one that’s going to get the most media attention. That’s what most people are interested in.
“If I was a player or manager, you’d like to be going out thinking you have a shot at something. Imagine going out as the Louth manager against Dublin on Saturday. What are you thinking? What am I going to do here?”
To get around the issue of media attention, Cuthbert argues all games could be screened online.
“Why don’t the GAA stream all the games? Club games are streamed. Third level games are streamed. What stops you having GAA TV, where you pay every year and you can watch all these games?”
Cuthbert maintains a revamped championship, where teams face sides of their own standard, would also rectify the game’s image problem, and soften the prevailing negativity of football punditry.
“Teams wouldn’t have to revert, 99% of the time, to defensive systems. Because they would be playing against teams of their own standard where they could go out and win games.
“So the likes of Joe (Brolly) wouldn’t have to go on television saying ‘this is terrible to watch’ or Pat Spillane wouldn’t be talking about ‘puke football’.
“When there’s a level playing field, then people will be able to commentate on quality. They’d be able to comment around good play, attacking play, expansive play, the play we all want to see, the skills of the game.”
Cuthbert welcomes the GAA’s president’s apparent determination to grasp the nettle on structures, but hopes the review doesn’t ignore the underage game, where he sees an urgent need for a revamp.
“There's a huge opportunity and I’m delighted to see John Horan coming out and saying there is a need for change. I think he’s anxious to get it done before his time is up.
“One of the first things we should do is make U19 the first All-Ireland Championship. Everything up to U17 would be developmental. You can have ‘Celtic Challenges’ or whatever, where the bigger counties can have three or four teams.
“But you’re putting U17s in an All-Ireland final in front of 80,000 people. Then if you win, you’ve the suit on, the waistcoat, going back to Killarney as an All-Ireland champion. There are boys starting the championship who are still 15 years of age. There’s a lot to take in there.
“I think we need to be very careful of the approach. These U17 competitions don’t need to be the big piece in the paper, they don’t need to be big on social media.
“These players’ self-identity is wrapped up in the GAA and that has unbelievable consequences for any child, and these are still only children.
“If people are making decisions about me as a player, but ultimately as a person, because my identity is so wrapped up in my playing, I think it’s wrong.
“At 19, I can handle that better. At 17, it’s difficult. Certainly at 16 and 15 I can't.
“I think the GAA are very close to doing something about it.”
Scaling back the minor grade will have knock-on benefits for clubs, Cuthbert insists.
“Remember only one percent of players are in the elite game bracket.
“The biggest thing is to move the club from the periphery into the centre. If the GAA is to remain true to its values the club has to remain as a central component.
“To get the club back there is going to be difficult but you can do it if you align the competitions properly.
“For example, if you only have an U17 developmental competition, that surely will mean the minor manager at U17 won't be extracting players from clubs for the whole year, which is happening now.
“I’ve seen guys not playing with their clubs at minor even in championship, which is absolutely ridiculous, but that’s what’s happened around the country.
“If you take the emphasis off competition at 17 you can get the club as your central component and build on that at third-level.
“Give third-level a proper chance of having their players.”