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Pictured Oisin McConville



Date: Wednesday 5th May 2010

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Photographer: Liam McBurney

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League action has been enthralling, but GAA chiefs seem loathe to market high-stakes final day

Oisin McConville


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Derry's Brendan Rogers will hope to inspire his side to promotion

Derry's Brendan Rogers will hope to inspire his side to promotion

©INPHO/Lorcan Doherty

Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee takes on Mayo’s Jason Doherty

Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee takes on Mayo’s Jason Doherty

©INPHO/Lorcan Doherty

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Derry's Brendan Rogers will hope to inspire his side to promotion

The Allianz Football League may be regarded as the second most important competition in the annual fixtures calendar, yet on occasions it tends to claim the spotlight from the All-Ireland Championship.

After all, given that Dublin reigned supreme in the showpiece event for six long years during which its predictability became a byword, it’s hardly surprising the competition lost some of its allure.

Contrast this to the current Allianz Football League, the divisional element of which is set to reach what I believe will be an utterly compelling climax today.

Indeed, it would have been hard to provide a more alluring script spanning recent weeks. Let’s condense the overall menu into the series of tasty dishes that I feel will have fans salivating as the afternoon unfolds.

Kerry look certain to be in the League Final proper where they will meet either Mayo or Armagh, while the only certainty relative to relegation from Division One is that the losers of this afternoon’s Monaghan v Dublin clash will descend into Division Two along with one other team which could potentially be Donegal or Tyrone.

In Division Two, either Derry or Roscommon will join already-promoted Galway in leaping into Division One while Down have been consigned to Division Three, where they will be joined by either Cork or Offaly. And to think that Cork and Down contested the 2010 All-Ireland Final, which the Leesiders won by a point!

It’s nail-biting time in Division Three, too, with Mickey Harte’s Louth, Limerick, Antrim, Westmeath and Fermanagh all still in the promotion hunt. At the other end, Wicklow will have difficulty in avoiding the drop with the losers of Longford v Laois destined to join them.

Such is the level of intrigue and speculation surrounding today’s crucial fixtures that one would have thought the GAA powers-that-be might have pulled out all the stops in a robust marketing operation aimed at enticing fans through the turnstiles.

But no. Indeed, it’s almost as if there is a desire to see the fixtures over and done with so we can get on with the Championship series — a competition in which a number of counties will get a maximum of two games in contrast to the minimum of seven every county was afforded in the Allianz League.

I think, to be honest, Croke Park chiefs have perhaps failed to grasp the real significance of a number of today’s games.

Relegation for some counties will mean their unwilling participation in the Tailteann Cup which is due to be launched this summer.

And here’s the anomaly. While I mounted my soap-box to make my plea for much stronger promotion for today’s games given their significance for so many counties, I am all too well aware that by this evening a number of teams will have been provided with confirmation that they will be in the inaugural Tailteann Cup competition.

The truth of the matter is, of course, that none of them will relish being there. Instead they will want to have their annual cut at the Sam Maguire Cup even though for the vast majority of counties this is something of a wasted exercise.

Bad enough that counties are demoted in the League but to have to face into a competition in which they don’t really want to be involved in the first place adds to the dilemma facing GAA chiefs.

Maybe they are taking the softly, softly approach. In other words, get today’s games completed with minimal fuss and publicity, then formulate the line-up for the Tailteann Cup and hope it might take on a life of its own alongside the All-Ireland Championship.

Meanwhile, the curtain is about to come down on an Allianz League competition that has not so much whetted the appetite of fans as treated them to haute cuisine sporting dishes that were enthusiastically lapped up.

While the provincial and All-Ireland Championships will retain their particular appeal, I feel the League has proved much more than a seasonal aperitif.

It has exceeded expectations in terms of entertainment value, drama and individual flair and if the Championship segment of the season provides a similar offering, we will not have too much to complain about.

GAA shouldn’t put referees in awkward position of officiating a neighbouring county’s match

The subject of refereeing remains an ongoing topic of conversation within the GAA.

Contentious decisions more often than not trigger debate and ensure that the element of controversy is never too far away.

Yet there is one aspect of refereeing that I continue to find rather strange and that is that whistlers from next-door neighbouring counties to one or even both opposing sides in any given game are asked to referee matches in which teams are engaged.

We had a situation last weekend where Sean Hurson from Tyrone was the man in charge of the Derry v Galway match, while Barry Cassidy from Derry took charge of the Tyrone v Dublin game in Omagh the previous weekend.

I don’t have a problem with either referee but I find it strange that they are asked to officiate at matches in which their next-door neighbours are involved.

I am certainly not calling into question the integrity of referees who find themselves handling games involving their next-door neighbours, but I would like to pose the question — why should this be so?

Surely there are sufficient referees on the island to allow them to be spread around in a way that would not entail rubbing shoulders with a side from next door.

I think that the vast majority of referees do an excellent job but they could potentially find themselves coming in for criticism if they make what might be deemed to be unfavourable decisions relative to a neighbouring side.

Refereeing is never an easy task and we are fortunate that within the GAA we have a very dedicated group of officials who take great pride in fulfilling their role.

Mind you, they are invariably the first people to come under fire when things are not seen to be going well for a team and then they could find themselves in an awkward position.

I am aware that there is an elite list of referees who take charge of the major League and Championship matches and this being the case, I think they should not be assigned games in which teams which border their own county are involved.

Obviously referees are never going to please all of the people all of the time but perhaps by scrutinising appointments a little bit more the powers-that-be might avail of a greater spread of whistlers.

I think there are plenty of options in relation to the appointment of referees and I believe if this issue were to be given greater thought then steps could be taken to ensure that neighbourly contact is avoided.


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