GAA must face up to Munster mess
It may have been labelled as a golden era for gaelic football but did Kerry’s dominance of the All-Ireland sphere from the mid-’70 until the early ’80s really benefit the sport as a whole?
Here we have a county that scarcely had to break sweat to win a Munster title, then glide through an All-Ireland semi-final before duly collecting ‘Sam’.
Of course, the format was not of Kerry’s making and the Kingdom could only beat what was put in front of them at that stage.
It was a predictable course and while the Kingdom’s dominance delighted their followers, the fact that other counties were continually left wallowing in their slipstream was clinically glossed over.
Fast forward to today and has anything markedly changed in this connection?
I don’t think so.
Look at what pertains in Munster at the moment. Kerry and Cork go through the motions until they meet in the provincial final by which stage both know they are certain to gain entry to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
It’s a cosy, comfortable set-up and I was not in the least surprised when I heard former Kerry All-Ireland winner and controversial TV gaelic games analyst Pat Spillane express satisfaction with the current provincial championship and pour cold water on any notion that changes should be effected.
He was perhaps seeing matters through green and gold-tinted glasses, though.
Why else would be condone a provincial championship in which severe drubbings are routinely meted out to sides with the pairing in the final, barring a miscalculation in terms of the overall draw, all but taken for granted from the outset?
In an Ulster context, wouldn’t teams like Monaghan and Cavan be ecstatic if they thought at the start of their domestic competition that they were all but assured of their places in the All-Ireland quarter-finals? You bet they would!
While I still have the height of respect for the provincial championships as such — I certainly treasure the three medals I won in the Ulster Championship with Armagh — I nonetheless feel that we have reached a point where the credibility of both the Munster and Connacht championships must come in for serious questioning.
Time and again in the past an open draw for the All-Ireland series has been mooted and while I am in favour of this, I feel it could be achieved in tandem with the provincial championships being conducted on a league basis.
Naturally, all four provincial councils are anxious to retain their autonomy and quite rightly cherish their flagship senior football and hurling championships.
But when it gets to the stage where a particular provincial championship becomes a topic of mirth then it is time to address the issue.
No one has been paying the slightest bit of attention to the Munster championship to date apart from noting the results of matches — and in this respect, people are disappointed when there is no hint of a surprise.
The introduction of an open draw for the All-Ireland series per se would, I feel, provide additional momentum for and interest in a competition that tends to labour towards its final stages.
While it is virtually guaranteed that Kerry and Cork will be in the All-Ireland quarter-final as things stand, could the same view be expressed with conviction if Kerry, for instance, were to be drawn against Tyrone and Cork paired with Donegal in the first round of an open draw?
I don’t think so.
The stronger teams right now — these include Dublin, Mayo, Donegal, Kerry, Tyrone and Cork — are not only imposing on the field of play but their administration and fund-raising mechanisms are superior to the rest of the counties.
Their marquee players, too — such as Stephen Cluxton, Declan O’Sullivan, Sean Cavanagh, Aidan O’Shea, Michael Murphy and Donnacha O’Connor — are also excellent ambassadors for the GAA and can often prove key marketing tools.
It is only with the unstinting support of a county board can a team prove successful. While the manager can do his bit and the players can put in the effort out on the park, the support of a smooth administrative set-up and a vibrant fund-raising arm can expedite success.
Club Tyrone can take great credit from the work it has already put into the financing of the new Tyrone centre of Excellence at Garvaghey while the Derry board has just unveiled the magnificently upgraded Owenbeg complex.
Ulster has not been behind the door in leading the drive for better facilities but a situation can be reached where a county may boast one and maybe even two excellent grounds without possessing a team that can come anywhere near filling them in terms of spectator appeal.
As things stand there is a grave imbalance in terms of the provincial championships with Ulster and Leinster carrying a lot more gravitas than the competitions in Munster and Connacht as they are presently formulated.
I know that the wheels of change traditionally turn slowly within the GAA but it is perhaps timely to address the issue of bringing greater credibility to the provincial championships.
I do not profess to have the definitive answer to this but I do know that while Pat Spillane might be strongly in favour of the status quo, he is rapidly becoming a voice in the wilderness.