JOHN FOGARTY: Carlow recipe for change worth sampling

Because it’s Carlow, it might be overlooked. Because it’s Carlow, it might be dismissed as the miniscule musings of a lesser light.

However, their blueprint for the All-Ireland senior football championship merits everyone’s attention.

Carlow didn’t have the press conference nor the elaborate graphics that trumpeted the GPA’s system. In late July, they simply posted their plan for a new competition structure on their website.

The timing of its release, just as the business end of the championship had begun, couldn’t have been worse. If only as much consideration was put into its framing as its substance.

In a nutshell, Carlow are proposing the previous year’s provincial and league standings determine a county’s placing in a knock-out All-Ireland series. The eight 2016 provincial finalists would be first seeds in the 2017 All-Ireland SFC and granted a bye into the last 16 (round three). The eight semi-finalists would be ranked second seeds and handed berths in round two where they’d face the eight first round winners. The first round comprises the third and fourth seeds, who are identified by their league placings.

There are to be, where possible, no duplication of provincial pairings and home advantage is given to the weaker county in the first and second round. Not only that, Carlow foresee the provincial and All-Ireland competitions running concurrently, meaning counties don’t have to wait so long between provincial and qualifier games. Counties would still only be afforded a minimum of two games, but at least they wouldn’t be so far apart.

Carlow’s system is just as thought-provoking as former GAA president Seán Kelly’s split All-Ireland series, from which Jim McGuinness took a lot from in putting forward his SFC idea this past summer. True, it magnifies the inequalities of the provincial championship. Using this year as an example, the idea of Sligo being seeded ahead of Tyrone and Mayo being handed a last-16 spot, having won just one game, where Donegal and Tyrone would have to win three, doesn’t sound or look right.

However, that isn’t Carlow’s fault. In fact, they compensate for that provincial disparity by recommending a far more equitable All-Ireland series. Pitting what would largely be Division 3 and Division 4 teams against one another in the early stages, the championship would be more competitive than the current soporific opening rounds of the qualifiers.

Above all else, Carlow clearly have the clubs at heart. There would be no slow death for weaker counties, losing a preliminary or first-round provincial game only to made wait five or six weeks for the coup de grace, as they see some of their players flee to the US and club fixtures are halted. Not only are counties like Carlow given more of a fighting chance, clubs would have more room in the calendar.

What will appeal to Croke Park is that Carlow’s format calls for no extra matches. Excluding replays, there are 60 championship games currently: Connacht (six), Leinster (10), Munster (five) and Ulster (eight), qualifiers (24) and All-Ireland series (seven). The Carlow proposal retains the same number: The 29 provincial games, 24 games over the first three rounds, followed by the seven from the quarter-final stages onwards.

That is in contrast to the GPA structure, which proposes an extra 40 championship games on top of the 60 that is there. As much as they argue clubs wouldn’t be affected by that volume in a more concentrated time-span, fixture planners have already indicated that it would be unworkable.

There is plenty of good in the GPA’s structure. Linking the league with the championship and ending league semi-finals (in Division 1) and finals is welcome. So too is their attempt to try and balance the lopsided training-to-game ratio. Yet, their Champions League-style All-Ireland series, in which Division 1 teams would face those from Division 4, would contribute to even more landslide results. As well as that, the provincial system was clearly an after-thought: It didn’t feature in their earlier draft in July. Running them off in six weeks is fanciful, though it can be agreed the 11 weeks it currently takes Connacht to finish their competition is excessive.

The GPA’s plan certainly doesn’t lack ambition, but that is its downfall, where Carlow’s is grounded in reality and coloured by an acceptance that the weak must get a running start if they are to challenge the big teams and clubs don’t just need more time, but quality time when the sun is on their backs. Carlow aren’t recommending more inter-county matches, but that can be remedied. As Dublin’s Paddy Andrews said last week: “We just want more games, whether that’s with Dublin or the clubs.” This Thursday, the provincial chairmen and secretaries will make the draws for next season, just as they will again for 2017 next October and so on. That humdrum exercise won’t change, but what happens thereafter is open season.

Carlow’s simple but ingenious scheme for the All-Ireland series should be a key ingredient in the recipe for change.

Kingston and the shape of things to come

Carlow recipe for change worth sampling

As if 2015 wasn’t already steeped in nostalgia for Cork, Glen Rovers’ first county success in 26 years on Sunday turned the reminiscence dial to 11.

Of course, we all know what happened in 1990, the year after the Blackpool men last lifted the Seán Óg Murphy Cup.

News on Saturday of Kieran Kingston’s selection as Jimmy Barry-Murphy’s successor was generally greeted with applause. It helps that he is as amicable as the man he served as a selector and then as a coach but, above that, he is highly regarded in the camp for his hurling brain.

Some Cork officials may not like to admit it, but the players’ view is a consideration in such situations. That Frank Murphy and the rest of the selection committee were able to convince a man who we are led to believe was more comfortable with the idea of being a coach again than wearing the bainisteoir’s bib was quite the coup. Just as happened with Gerald McCarthy in 2006, they wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

So, now to the questions Kingston must answer if Cork are to take the throne again: Does he appreciate Cork are not currently physically capable of playing the likes of Kilkenny and Galway 15-on-15? Will he use the template started by Mark Landers in the qualifiers this year? Where best can he utilise Pa Horgan? Does he trust Paudie O’Sullivan, Cork’s stand-out goal-getter, to become more than a Kevin McManamon-type impact substitute? Starting in Salthill next February, how Kingston shapes his team will be of huge interest to many.

O’Riordan exit a monumental loss to Tipp

Carlow recipe for change worth sampling

The mixed reaction in Tipperary to Colin O’Riordan’s decision to join the Sydney Swans over the weekend is understandable. He is, after all, the most exciting football talent to emerge from the county since Declan Browne. Losing him is a monumental blow.

Few 18-year-olds pick up All Star nominations but he thoroughly deserved his selection last year. Few 17-year-olds come off a bench in a Munster U21 hurling final and with their brilliance under a high ball almost save their team but O’Riordan almost did just that in 2013 against Clare.

His leadership qualities were evident there just as they were in abundance captaining the U21 footballers to an All-Ireland final and spearheading the hurlers’ attack this year.

Having turned 20 yesterday, O’Riordan embarks on an exciting, new chapter and one that is almost certain to be a success for such a precocious talent. He is simply a stand-up sort of fella. Last November, O’Riordan was invited by the GAA and GPA to Boston as an All Star replacement. On the last day, a number of journalists joined him and his girlfriend on a tour around the city’s famous Fenway Park. His inquisitiveness about its history but also his knowledge of it marked him out as a person of substance.

The hope in Tipperary will be that he returns to the blue and gold one day. For now, the county should celebrate as much as mourn his leaving for he’s likely to give them as much reason to be proud as Shane Long last Thursday. 


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