Geography should no longer be the barometer for competitiveness

Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Gaelic Park, New York, USA 5/5/2019 New York vs Mayo A view the action from Gaelic Park Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Andy Marlin

As the championship has now officially thrown in, we’re sure to get another barrage of negative commentary about the inequality of the inter-county football showpiece competition in the coming weeks, as top tier teams devour some of the also-rans.

There will be little mystery or intrigue outside of Ulster and possibly Connacht and realistically it will be August before the competitiveness of the games start to live up to the hype.

Judging by RTÉ’s live match selection, they’re seemingly doing their best to spare the watching public from having to endure the Christians being fed to the lions on a weekly basis.

The absence of early televised football games might at least spare us from some of the widespread gloomy hysteria that normally takes hold at this time of year.

Mayo devoured the Big Apple and made easy work of their hosts in their opening day victory on foreign soil.

Galway were less impressive a little closer to home but did what they were supposed to do with a four-point win against a London team who were playing “like it was their All-Ireland final”, according to Kevin Walsh.

After their defeat to the Tribesmen on Sunday afternoon, London manager Ciarán Deely has some interesting thoughts when interviewed by RTÉ:

I’m a huge supporter of a tier two championship. We want to be pitting ourselves against teams that are in Division 3 and Division 4 on a continual basis.

"We want more games. I think it’s the only way that teams like ourselves can develop and keep improving. We’d love to be in a competition we have a real chance of winning.”

Of course, there is plenty of legitimacy to calls for a competition overhaul, and to develop a system that is more equitable for all, especially the minnows. Its easier said than done obviously, but another season of provincial massacres will only see those calls for change grow ever more deafening.

Even despite the injuries picked up following a month of hectic club championship action in all grades, a Kerry procession through Munster is the most likely outcome and anything else would be a significant shock.

Clare survived in Division Two by the skin of their teeth thanks to a healthier score difference, while Cork and Tipperary have both gone backwards and will ply their trade in the third tier of the national football league next year.

Limerick and Waterford are languishing in the basement division and it is difficult to imagine a single competitive championship landscape that appropriately caters for such huge disparity of quality in the province.

In 2019, geography can’t be the most reliable metric we use when trying to create a level playing field.

Even when counties are looking to organise their own internal juvenile and adult club competitions, the grading system is more complex than just lumping teams into a group based on their proximity to one another.

Everybody recognises that such a system would be inherently unfair, so they look at factors like your performance in the previous year, among others, to help guide their decision making on where a club ranks.

Leinster will be more of the same. Take Dublin out of the province and it would be one of the most competitive and enjoyable to watch with a bunch of evenly matched teams going at it. Unfortunately, our buddy geography won’t allow us such liberty.

There will be some fiercely contested high-quality games in Leinster, but not many involving the history-chasing champions.

You’d imagine they will swat aside all-comers, with Kildare and Meath putting up more respectable challenges than the average 18-point margin of victory the Dubs enjoyed through the competition last season.

Connacht will be all about James Horan and a resurgent Mayo squad trying to reclaim the crown and bragging rights against plucky Roscommon but particularly Galway.

It’s one thing winning the league or having 6,000 or so supporters flying to New York for the weekend… the provincial title, and beating Galway is a much more important stepping stone for Mayo, who will desperately want to maintain the consistency and ruthlessness they’ve begun to develop.

Horan has infused his squad with some new blood through their march to the league title, and that injection of youthful exuberance should drive them on to reclaim the provincial title.

Ulster will pick up much of the early championship focus because of the competitiveness of the games in comparison to the rest. There will be some arm wrestles, but there’ll be some great quality up there too. One would assume Tyrone, Monaghan or Donegal will be the most likely to emerge from the rubble after it’s all said and done.

If it’s not going to be the GPA or CPA, perhaps it’ll take RTÉ and Sky Sports to keep ignoring the big ball game for most of the provincial competitions for the administrators in headquarters to really sit up and take notice.

Or maybe it will take more managers and administrators like Ciarán Deely to speak out for the need for fundamental change to our competition structure.

Perhaps, the tree will be shaken at a special congress in the back end of this year — GAA president John Horan certainly seems open to the idea.

For now at least, it is what it is, and while the bad games will be held up as proof positive Gaelic football is on its last legs by the ‘flat earthers’, there’ll be plenty of absolute brilliance on display too, if you really want to find it.

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