Last Friday’s Leinster Championships launch attempted to offer something for everybody.
In spite of it taking place in Jim Gavin’s old workplace in Baldonnel Aerodrome, in spite of being the seventh consecutive year that the province has staged a Championship launch in Dublin, the tagline to the event was intended for all participants.
“Nothing Beats The Journey”, a line paraphrased from a GAA marketing campaign earlier this decade.
The blurb for the launch expanded: “For most sporting teams the Destination is not always the leading motivator; for many the Journey towards success can be every bit as enjoyable.”
Translated, it would appear what the Leinster Council are trying to say is it’s the taking part that matters. That would apply to the vast amount of the 11 counties in the senior football championship.
But in the space of 14 or 15 days, that journey in the province will be over for seven of them. Some journey.
Alongside the Munster SFC, Leinster’s competition is regarded as a write-off. Down almost 30% in gate receipts last year from 2017, it is expected to suffer another decrease as Dublin stand alone as the kingpins.
It, like other aspects of what is looking more like an antiquated competition structure, is a reason to be fearful about the early part of the football summer. There are several more:
In 2008, the average margins in the provincial championships were as follows: Connacht 10.16 points, Leinster 8.0, Munster 5.0, and Ulster 2.8.
Last season, that was 8.67 points in Connacht, 9.9 in Leinster, 14.4 in Munster and 6.75 in Ulster. With the exception of Connacht, the gaps have grown larger but even more significant across the board is how one-sided provincial finals have become.
From 2000 to 2009, the average gap in Connacht finals was 3.2 points, 4.75 in Leinster, 4.92 in Munster and 4.15 in Ulster. From 2010 to now, it has increased to 8.4 points in Connacht, 10.67 in Leinster, 7.5 in Munster and 6.56 in Ulster.
Maybe it was an unintended consequence but the keenness to augment the All-Ireland SHC following the introduction of the Super 8 has compelled the main broadcast right holders to shun early summer football.
RTÉ won’t show any live football games until June 8 and the Ulster semi-final on that date will be their only non-provincial final showing.
Between RTÉ and Sky, they will televise live just seven of the 29 provincial games when in 2017 RTÉ was showing that amount in Ulster alone.
The message they are sending out is clear.
At least the GAA are showing some flexibility by allowing BBC Northern Ireland to show two extra games on top of the two they will simulcast with RTÉ but if such addendums can be made to existing media rights agreements why can’t the same be done for the other provinces?
Probably because Croke Park know as much as anyone that the provincial system is no longer best practice.
All this for what?
In just over four weeks’ time, a quarter of the participants in the All-Ireland SFC will be gone. Another quarter will follow them two weeks later.
Six weekends to get rid of half the field and then 10 to distill the other 16 down to one.
For the amount of money being pumped into counties, that some of their Championship campaigns may extend to a mere two weeks (as was the case for Antrim, Derry, Meath and Westmeath last year) is unsustainable.
No second best
The seven/eight day turnaround for beaten provincial finalists may be all but a thing of the past but judging by the number who fail to reach the All-Ireland quarter-final/Super 8 stages recently the two-week break doesn’t seem to make too much of a difference.
Of the last 20 beaten provincial finalists, just eight won their subsequent fourth round qualifier to make the last eight. Roscommon last year and Galway in 2017 are the only teams to have bounced back from losing provincial finals in the past two seasons.
It’s 10 years since the Leinster runners-up qualified for the quarter-finals.
Every day is like Saturday
Ask players which weekend day they prefer to play and the majority will say Saturday. That way they have a day to recuperate before those who work return to their jobs on the Monday.
However, Sunday afternoon remains the top billing — all six provincial finals take place on a Sunday as do the All-Ireland finals. The biggest crowd-pulling All-Ireland hurling semi-final takes place on a Sunday.
This year, as well as all the football qualifiers at least up to Round 4, all five Munster SFC matches are down for a Saturday evening including the final, which was supposed to return to a Sunday slot this year as another provincial decider replaced it as part of a rota.
In all, 10 of the 29 provincial match-days are on Saturdays. In contrast, just three of the 17 match-days in the Leinster and Munster SHC are scheduled for Saturdays.
It’s obvious for May and June at least what the preferred code is.