Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Joe Kernan: USA move total madness

Graham Canty has proved inspirational in Cork's hat-trick of Allianz League football titles since 2010

Time was when the wheels of change turned very slowly within the GAA. Indeed, the biggest sporting body in the country was in the past viewed as being ultra-conservative, impervious to alterations to its ethos or rules.

But in more recent years the Association has had to adapt to the new order that prevails in Irish society.

No longer can it stick its head in the sand and ignore what is happening in all walks of life.

Only a few years ago fully floodlit grounds, full-time paid officials, a strong bond between the GAA and the GPA, and international soccer and rugby being staged at Croke Park would all have been deemed unthinkable.

These are all par for the course now and far from deciding that it should go thus far and no further in terms of making changes to the status quo, the GAA is actually accelerating change.

Latest innovation on the cards is the possible staging of the Allianz League finals in New York yet this is a suggestion that I would view with considerable apprehension.

Quite why the GAA authorities would want to dilute the appeal of the Railway Cup while at the same time attempt to pursue what would be a loss-making safari to the Big Apple for the league finals leaves me bewildered.

Certainly at face value the possibility of the league deciders being played in New York holds a degree of appeal but I don’t think this is really feasible.

For a start, the cost of bringing teams and all their officials there would be enormous.

Secondly, since many supporters loyally attend all league games in which their counties are involved despite what can often be arctic weather conditions, it would be a pity if followers of those teams who reach the final were to be denied the chance to see them perform if the matches were to be staged on the other side of the Atlantic.

All-Ireland final medals and perhaps All Star awards are the most prized honours that players can gain at inter-county level but Allianz League medals are not far behind.

I know in the past the Railway Cup finals have been played at venues outside Ireland but there is only one venue at which league deciders should be staged — and that is Croke Park.

All players want to perform there and while for quite a few it would no longer be a novel experience, to be representing their county in a league final at Headquarters still constitutes a significant honour.

The staging of finals in New York would automatically mean that those players who are fortunate enough to be in work would have to take time off and although I am sure that the GAA would reimburse the respective county boards for the overall outlay involved — or the best part of it at least — this would impose its own pressures on counties.

I am aware that there is a demand for competitive matches to be staged in New York but just how many followers would really flock to such games?

I suspect that the number would come nowhere near the crowd figure that would be triggered if the league final was to be played at Croke Park.

It is a known fact that attendances at league finals in this country have not been particularly encouraging lately so the prospect of the GAA making a financial killing in New York is totally remote.

Far better indeed that the league finals in both football and hurling should be robustly marketed here with a view to getting as many followers into Croke Park as possible.

Over the past year the Ulster Council and the Croke Park authorities have exhibited a new-found enthusiasm for a vibrant marketing strategy and this has paid huge dividends on several fronts.

Only last weekend the three double-bills in Ulster embracing the Junior, Intermediate and Senior club football semi-finals attracted an overall attendance of 10,000 which for the month of November was hugely encouraging.

If this same marketing formula were to be applied to the league finals, then I have no doubt that sizeable crowds could be enticed into Headquarters.

There are the cynics who will proffer the view that it is ‘only’ the league finals — so why worry?

It is worth recording that the closing stages of the league competitions in recent years have strongly featured those very same teams who went on to make an impact in the All-Ireland Championship.

Cork have won the league title for the past three years with skipper Graham Canty a driving force and also won the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time in 20 years in 2010.

Had any of these league finals been played in New York, I doubt that they would have generated the same level of interest.

There is definitely a message there somewhere.

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