Costello: End provincial series

DUBLIN secretary John Costello has added his voice to those calling on the GAA to abandon the inter-county provincial championships.

And, in a far-reaching annual report to his county’s convention, the Dublin official has also questioned the validity of the nine-year-old backdoor system.

Costello believes that the slavish devotion to a traditional structure which tolerates 12 counties in one grouping and only five in another is both outmoded and unfair.

“I would argue that we have become hostage to both history and geography for too long,” he argues. “I would support the introduction of four Conferences (North, South, East, West) to replace the provinces of Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht with the geographical boundaries (for the purposes of the All-Ireland SFC Series) being redrawn so that the same (or as close as) number of counties are participating in each of the conferences.

“Perhaps the inclusion of London in the Eastern Conference would see the Dubs travel to face ‘The Exiles’ in London. It would not be the first time the Dubs have played there. There is no simple answer to the juggling act that is involved in attempting to weld a lob-sided traditional provincial structure to a national championship, especially when one province involves as many as 12 counties and another less than half that.”

Though Costello is unhappy with the backdoor system, he admitted the introduction of the qualifiers in 2001 had been a “welcome tonic” and pointed to the success of counties such as Fermanagh, Sligo and Westmeath as proof. “There is no denying the feel good novelty dimension to the experiment that ensured that the dedication, sacrifice and time invested by players and management in their training regimes no longer hinged on the possibility of one championship or summer outing and one alone.”

That said, he believes the backdoor format has run its course with the stronger counties now benefiting from the revised system and, often, at the expense of club activity nationwide.

“While it makes sense from a sporting and business perspective to parade our best talents and most attractive teams on the highest stage for as long as possible, the benefits for the lower ranked counties initially envisaged, have not materialised,” he argued.

Costello’s interest in this debate is to be expected given Dublin’s poor record in transforming consistent success in Leinster onto the wider sphere but he is far from alone in proposing such radical alterations.

However, in the likely event of the current provincial system being retained, he would like to see something done to reward those teams that do claim the four mid-summer titles.

“In light of the record of recent provincial winners, not just in Leinster, this situation merits debate.

“We have changed and revisited hurling’s championship structures on a more frequent basis when the need has arisen, so why not football?

“Affording the provincial winners parity and the ‘luxury’ of being able to lose one game, like all of the other competing teams, could be examined if we are hell ent on preserving our provincial structures. Getting the four provincial winners to play each other after the provincial competitions run their course, with two winners advancing to the semi-finals and the two defeated teams playing two counties from the qualifiers, is one suggestion.

“I ask the following questions – has the system as we know it served its function and run its course? Has the time for a real review arrived?”

Costello has questions about playing rules, which is timely considering the news radical changes were discussed – including a mark and an overhaul of the square ball rule – at last Saturday’s Central Council meeting.

“Is it time to do away with the ‘pick up’ in Gaelic football?” he asked.

“It is not an action that brings any great skill to the game and, at times, can be difficult for referees to officiate.

“While many people argue for the deletion of the ‘square ball’ from the rulebook, I would argue with its retention. In hurling especially, where a goalkeeper obviously fetches the ball one-handed, the rule should be maintained for the protection of goalkeepers who could be exposed to injury under angled deliveries into their area. Maybe we could experiment with an arc, similar to the penalty zone arc, instead of the traditional parallelogram.”

Costello expressed safety concerns over penalties in hurling. With the lift and strike technique perfected, he believes defenders are in danger of serious injury such is the velocity of shots from such ‘dead’ balls.

To counteract that, he has suggested that the striking action be confined to beyond the 20-metre line which rarely, if ever, occurs as things stand in the modern game.

His opinion on umpires is clear. “Having witnessed on a few occasions this year, and in recent seasons, confusion and conflicting signals between umpires at the same end I believe it is time to have just one umpire on duty at either end of the pitch,” he proposed.


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