Belfast Telegraph

Declan Bogue: Dark days for the game we all love

By Declan Bogue

Here's a stat for you; just 4.91% of Championship football remains for this season.

What a season that was! Fifty eight games played and so many, many glorious memories. Or perhaps not, as we approach a period when Gaelic games takes centre stage at the exact time as the level of participation is at its least.

If you were to compile your own personal list of 10 most memorable moments so far in the football Championship, what would they be?

Perhaps a sideline ball kicked over the bar by Michael Murphy would feature. Certainly, the individual performance of James O'Donoghue against Cork and Galway.

Chalk down the demolitions of Dublin by everyone in their province and the way they took two chunks out of Monaghan in the first half before going on to clean their plates.

The pre-match row between Armagh and Cavan. The couple of rows between Armagh and Donegal. And even the opening seconds skirmish between Armagh and Tyrone.

But name even four or five genuinely enthralling encounters. You might say the draws between Tyrone/Down and Monaghan/Armagh held the audience spellbound, but certainly each game only truly came to life with 10 minutes remaining.

The old firm in Munster produced a whitewash for Kerry. The same out west was a stroll in the park for Mayo.

And nobody was able to lay a glove on Dublin in Leinster, with Meath feeling themselves disintegrate, or else the Dubs delivering on their massive potential and confidence.

Something we must ask ourselves is how much good this is doing for the game as a whole. Those who maintain everything is hunky-dory, that the structures of the Championship are fine as they are, point to famous giant-killing acts of the past and hold them up as evidence.

We are told to forget about London crumbling by 19 points to Galway this season and recall that glorious summer last year when they reached their first ever Connacht final.

They would like to invoke images of the summer of '94, when Leitrim captain Declan Darcy graced a podium with 1927 captain Tom Gannon as they shared the glory of a Connacht Championship.

But that was 20 years ago. Leitrim lost their first-round qualifier against Down this year by 21 points and one of their county board members has floated the idea of dropping out of senior Championship football for the time being.

It has always been the way that each province has had imbalance, it's just that this year seems more pronounced.

Even allowing for the traditional Championship-opening turkeyshoot in the Bronx, the average margin in Championship matches out west this summer was a whopping 10.2 points.

Leinster was only marginally behind, with 10.09 points, boosted of course by Dublin's utter supremacy.

The rise of Tipperary and Clare's performances kept things tighter than normal in Munster, with Kerry's hammering of Cork the largest winning margin and mean average of six points per game.

Of course, it had to be Ulster where there is least among any of the teams, just over five points taken as the average margin. But really, it was a scrappy, unsatisfying Championship with the usual share of spite and misguided machismo.

The trend and necessity for teams to adopt massed defences and slow, patient play has meant that a glitch in the development in the sport of Gaelic football has been exploited.

The temptation among coaches to copy rather than innovate has led to a product that lags behind hurling, soccer and rugby at present.

This is reflected in the dwindling attendances at qualifier matches, regardless of the positive spin put out.

With the prestige of being part of a middle-ranking county diminishing year-on-year, a blame culture is everywhere, players frustrated at a lack of player-centred administration, while a few county boards are struggling to stay on top of things never mind the difficulty of attracting the right people into coaching or infrastructural positions.

This has led to superpowers emerging in each province. In the five seasons before now, only seven teams have been All-Ireland semi-finalists without winning their province. Six of them were in 2009 and 2010, with only Tyrone coming through the backdoor last year since.

Kerry, Dublin, Donegal and Mayo now are the only teams that can realistically win an All-Ireland.

As ever, three 'blockbusters' might supply us with enough highlight reel screened at the All-Stars night to convince ourselves that it was a good year. But in this harsh light, let's not cod ourselves.

Belfast Telegraph

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