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Peter Canavan: Championship needs a wake-up call

By Peter Canavan

Published 10/06/2016

Different league: Tyrone were successful in the National League but, according to Peter Canavan, are not equipped for Championship glory
Different league: Tyrone were successful in the National League but, according to Peter Canavan, are not equipped for Championship glory
Peter Canavan

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

According to urban myth (and Google), the above words of wisdom were uttered by Albert Einstein, but you don't need to be an Einstein to work out that the GAA is insane.

Don't get me wrong. I'd be the first to acknowledge that there's more right with our Association than wrong, but why more is not done to right obvious wrongs is infuriating.

One of the biggest blots on our landscape is the retention of the out-of-date Championship format. It continues to defy fairness or logic - as illustrated by the big winning margins in so many games this summer. It's Gaeldom at its most galling.

Since 1884, we have made ONE alteration to the structure of our Championship and that change - the introduction of the 'back door' in 2001 - could be, at best, described as a 'tweak'.

Now, think of all the changes that have been made in other facets of life in those 132 years. The world has moved on at a pace.

I have previously outlined in detail on these pages a system which I think should be introduced for the Championship.

It basically involves: guaranteeing teams a minimum four games in the summer in a two-tiered Championship, with the abolition of all replays, and specific weekends set aside for club football.

The essential tenet of this proposal is 'games, games and games'. In the debate about what can be done to get 'the rest' up to the level of Kerry, Dublin and Mayo, there has been all sorts of talk about funding, facilities, training schedules, coaching officers, extending the parentage rule, moving the Dubs out of Croke Park, etc.

But, trust me on this. What improves teams more than anything is playing competitive matches over a period of time and, of course, preparing together to play in them.

I often wonder do those who run the county boards of these so-called weaker, or even middle tier, teams really want to do things differently.

The way many of them vote against change at Congress - like this year turning down the chance to bring forward the All-Ireland finals by two weeks - and how they run their competitions leaves me in no doubt.

Take a look Louth ahead of Sunday's clash against Meath. Here's a lower tier team which showed gradual progress in Division Four during the spring.

They initially played seven League games, winning five, losing one (to Leitrim) and drawing one (with Antrim). This was enough for a place in the final, in which they continued their improvement and beat Antrim by four points.

This success must have been a source of encouragement to manager Colin Kelly as it re-enforced belief in what they were doing ahead of their Championship opener against Carlow. Here, the progress continued with a 2-24 to 3-11 victory; onwards and gradually upwards.

So, what happens next? Obviously, heads down and full focus on a quarter-final with Meath, their neighbours who robbed them of a Leinster title in 2010? No, the county players go straight back to their clubs.

Having been together since the start of the year, devoting themselves to training like a Division One team, working hard to make improvements, and less than four weeks before their most important game of the year, the squad is forced to break up and collective training stops. Explain the logic to me.

It's mindboggling, especially as Louth have a decent chance of surprising a Meath team which must feel under pressure.

The knock-on effect is that teams like Louth lose much of what they have gained to this point; the unity of purpose they had disappears and they struggle to regain their focus.

And my underlying fear, especially given all the lopsided results, is that it's getting to a stage when our premier Gaelic football competition is irrelevant until the end of July.

In the past, I'd often joke with my hurling friends that hurling is a 'minority sport' as it doesn't have the same reach as football.

However, the joke is in real danger of backfiring on me. What I'm being told by these friends is that five counties could realistically win this year's All-Ireland hurling title: Kilkenny, Tipperary, Clare, Waterford and Galway.

In football, I believe the corresponding figure is four: Dublin, Kerry, Mayo and Donegal. At a push, some people would say five by adding in Tyrone, though I wouldn't.

If the people in Croke Park don't start making - as opposed to proposing - changes to the system, I fear we could be left with a very sad state of affairs. Or maybe it's me that's going insane?

Belfast Telegraph

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