Kieran Shannon: GAA must read the mood music and change outdated provincial structures

By going with another do-or-die championship, they’ve killed it off. Perhaps it had to be seen to fail spectacularly for something more spectacular to take its place
Kieran Shannon: GAA must read the mood music and change outdated provincial structures

DOWN AND OUT: A dejected Darren O’Neill after Kerry ended Clare’s Championship season for 2021 after just a single match in Saturday’s Munster SFC quarter-final at Fitzgerald Stadium. Picture: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile

Not only does a song tell a story, so does the choosing of one.

Seconds after Limerick won the 2018 All-Ireland hurling final, the voice of Delores O’Riordan rang around Croke Park, offering the perfect soundtrack for the moment. After 45 years of waiting for Liam MacCarthy to arrive back on Shannonside, ‘Dreams’ had come true for a people. Although the song was by then quarter of a century old, it was totally right for 2018 in a way ‘Limerick, You’re A Lady’ could never have been: The same year we’d lost The Voice that she was, we finally had a championship format as modern and awe-inspiring and refreshing as hearing The Cranberries and their lead vocalist for the first time.

Croke Park tends to offer that modern sensibility. When Dublin win another All-Ireland, it’s not Molly Malone they play, it’s Thin Lizzy and ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’, maybe because when he was playing a gig the same day Bernard Brogan Senior went drilling for goals against Kerry in ’77, Mr Lynott proclaimed to his audience “Up the Dubs!” And so it goes. When Cork finally get back to winning All-Irelands, De Banks might well get a rendition, but not before maybe a blast of The Franks’ ‘Afterall’.

But then there’s another side of the GAA and its musical preference.

After Clare dismissed Waterford from the Munster Championship last Sunday, someone somewhere in Semple Stadium dusted down an old 45 and dropped the needle on it and the gramophone.

The writer Tommy Conlon observed: “Nice to see Thurles upholding that venerable GAA tradition of playing the county song of the winning team straight after the final whistle, in this case ‘My Lovely Rose of Clare.”

Now, for sure, there was a time when that song had a certain charm. Even Jamesie O’Connor, who was big into his Radiohead in the glory years of ’95 and ’97, was hardly complaining when Tony Considine struck up My Lovely Rose instead of ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ on the steps of the Hogan Stand. But all these years on, it’s fair to say the Chris Ball-written song hasn’t stood up as well as ‘Dreams’ or ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’.

As Conlon went on to tweet: “Truly there’s a corner of the GAA psyche that is still warped in de Valera’s Ireland.”

And that psyche is not only responsible for inflicting ‘My Lovely Rose of Clare’ on us last Sunday when they could have reached for anything by Sharon Shannon to The Stunning.

That austere, traditional, outdated mindset is also responsible for ensuring the lovely footballers of Clare will only have one Championship game this summer, deeming that it was more important to have a provincial championship this year than an imaginative format that would have ensured at least two games for every player and been far more entertaining to the rest of us.

(That said, the old-timers aren’t the only ones who have been out of tune on this one this summer. Those hipsters, the GPA, didn’t do a large share of their own constituency any favours this summer by not ensuring there was some backdoor for its footballers; instead, for a second consecutive year, there’ll be no safety net for them).

In their desperation to cling on to the provincial football championships though, they’ve only hurt them. The public and indeed players have had their fill of hammerings like we had this past weekend between Kerry-Clare, Mayo-Sligo and Donegal-Down.

Indeed, they could well have damaged the one proposal heading to Special Congress in the autumn looking to retain the provincial championships in the summer months.

Proposal A calls for the retention of the provincial championships, although they would be altered to create four groups of eight. Some Leinster counties with lower league placings would be switched to Munster and Connacht, while the lowest-ranked Ulster county would move to Connacht.

Then each province would be broken into two groups of four for a round-robin phase where the top sides would win through to an All-Ireland series. If ever a GAA-committee tried to design a horse, it is that camel.

Proposal B is where the public’s appetite is at. For sure, retain your provincial championships; as we always say, that Connacht medal Eamon O’Hara won in 2007 has to mean something to his grandchildren.

But as Kieran Donaghy argued last week, play it in February and March on a round-robin format “when roads are bad and you’d have a lot of local derbies and they’d be a bit tighter on a wetter pitch”.

Have two semi-finals in Ulster and Leinster, one semi-final in Munster and Connacht. If you’ve to keep Allianz happy with their springtime sponsorship, have the provincial winners even play-off for the national league.

Then have a proper round-robin championship for the summer, as Proposal B outlines.

We’d quibble with aspects of Proposal B. Instead of retaining Divisions 1 and 2, we’d have it 1A and 1B, with the top four in each group through to the All-Ireland play-offs, with the top sides in the bottom-16 section also having the chance to play in to the All-Ireland series.

But Proposal B certainly has more going for it than Proposal A, and a lot more than this year’s championship.

By going with another do-or-die championship, they’ve killed it off.

Perhaps it had to be seen to fail spectacularly for something more spectacular to take its place.

Maybe we’ve to suffer some short-term pain for long-term gain.

Whatever, the old ways and the old song can’t remain the same.

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