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Provincial structures unfit for purpose and should go

By Declan Bogue

Three games into the Ulster Championship and the average winning/losing margin is twelve points.

With Donegal, Monaghan and Tyrone out in the first three weekends, we have had a chance to look at the main contenders straight off. But with that, they have also came up against opposition that were clearly not at their level.

The remarkable pattern in all three games was how the underdogs got a run of scores and chances that led you to believe they were in with a chance at half-time, before the introduction of fresh legs and the game opening out towards the end of the third quarter showed the gulf in conditioning, class and finishing.

While the notion of shocks in Ulster football are all but extinct, we have reached the point where the traditional tooth-and-nail qualities of a knockout Championship have vanished entirely, 16 years after the introduction of the qualifiers system.

That change for the summer of 2001 was designed to give the small fry another day out in the summer. Teams like Derry last weekend look as if they can't get the summer finished quick enough.

With the 'Super 8s' coming in next year, the next evolution of the Championship has been designed purely with the big teams in mind and to maximise the rivalries, sub-plots and crucially, their supporter base at a time when Championship attendances are falling.

This change will be given several years to bed in and, while it is doing so, gives the ready-made rebuke to the notion that the wider GAA family are unwilling to part from tradition.

The possibility of a shock almost had us salivating last weekend as news of Cork's remarkable escape from Fraher Field reached us. The romance of a Waterford win, which would have been their first over Cork since 1960, would have sustained the arguments that the current structures are just dandy.

Without a seeded competition, the Championship will continue to limp on.

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