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MacKenna On Monday: Next Decade Has To Be About Making Bad Teams Better


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The first season of this decade and the early clashes were promising so much.

Perhaps it was a Saturday at the very start of June that was the best indicator of what was to come. Kildare were quietly fancied by some to take that Leinster title, but in their first outing sleep-walked into Brian White and Paddy Keenan and a Louth side that ran through them and over them and around them, kicking 23 scores on a perfect evening. It should have been the story of that weekend, but with the whoops and roars still coming from those dumbfounded in red, word filtered through from way out west. Sligo had taken apart Mayo.

It wasn’t just the upsets either but the quality behind those upsets. These were seriously good teams.

It went on from there to the same thumping, stimulating beat, with 2010 offering up much to many. Soon Meath were putting five goals past Dublin and Joe Sheridan’s try in Croke Park became more famous than Shane Horgan’s giant leap. Sligo went on to beat Galway too and still left the summer with no silverware. Limerick gave Kerry a game and then some.

By the end of that season Kildare could’ve won the lot, Down might’ve won the lot, Dublin perhaps should’ve won the lot and Cork, somehow, ultimately did win the lot. As Graham Canty and Co. left the capital and headed southbound with silverware, everyone was yearning for the next chapter.

There’s nothing worse than buying into false hope, however.

Football, the revolution year? That’s a little harsh for there were a few shoots and shards of other storylines sprinkled about thereafter but just contrast the then and the now. If Dublin today are akin to Manchester City, this championship might as well be the Premier League without Liverpool and Tottenham. A one-horse town with a smattering of decent and much dross.

Slowly the 2010s have sucked the glorious essence from a game we once loved and still want to love. It’s a preservation technique around sanity to think ahead when the present is so miserable, therefore it’s little wonder that the entire build-up to 2019 hasn’t been about the teams or the games or the players or even the inevitable five-in-a-row. Instead, it has been about the structures and the future. There’s been so much chatter about the point of the provinces while John Horan has said that next year he hopes to have a second tier in place.

If this championship gets any livelier, a funeral might break out.

For sure, change is needed as the start of the decade lied and we’re in a bad place right now. Be careful what you wish for though.


Hurling, hurling, hurling.

Even when football has been brought up, it’s all that’s been on many minds.

Yet for all the small-ball conversation about Carlow giving it a go, and Dublin’s maor foirne, and Waterford’s one-point bad beating, and the chaotic 2-28 that Tipp put on in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, how often have you heard it mentioned that 28 different teams started their campaigns this weekend? You didn’t, for only 10 counties actually matter in that sphere.

The always insightful Kieran Shannon in the Irish Examiner recently spoke about the television coverage and brought up how we wouldn’t see perhaps the best team to ever play football live until 23 June, a full 14 weeks after their last showing. He added that prior to the provincial finals, 65 per cent of all Liam MacCarthy Cup games would be definitely shown live, but only 12 per cent of all provincial football games.

However, what wasn’t mentioned is that those hurling games will feature less than 30 per cent of all teams.
In this day and age that is crucial for sport is more and more about viewing from the sofa and there isn’t a guarantee of loyalty and lust based merely on where you are from. This is a generation that needs to be sold what to follow, not simply be born into what they follow.

The broadcasters are doing nothing wrong for they are businesses. But the association itself, despite how it often it tries to act as one, is not a business. It’s a community organisation that is supposed to represent everyone and should be judged by its very weakest link. Therefore if you want to look at the perils of a B championship in football, just look at what has become of the lower tiers in hurling. What started out as a good notion has become a trash can that allows for continued elitism for how exactly has hurling as a whole grown and thrived since the McDonagh and Ring and Rackard and Meagher Cups came into being?

Carlow got better, Offaly worse, but thereafter it’s the same chosen few. There’s been much work done in many less fashionable places, but there’s no exposure or respect so no future.

We talk in soccer circles about the dangers of a European Super League, meaning the places at the top table are set forever as the high-end of the game shrinks and becomes the preserve of the few. It’s a scary thought but for hurling, it already exists sadly.

Do we want that for football too? Today more and more counties are falling overboard, what a reactionary tier two would do is see us leave them there to painfully drown.

During the week Ciarán Deely, the London manager said, “Saw intercounty coach saying a B Championship for the GAA would be bad because RTÉ wouldn’t show much highlights! Who cares? Do we do this for a five-minute clip on TV or to win football games? I know what I want – to win games in a competition that we have a chance of winning.” It was a fair point, but there’s also a fair counter for television coverage isn’t solely about those brief moments on the box.

A lack of air time essentially equates to poor exposure, which loses hearts, minds and money, decreases interest in kids, and from there is a race to the bottom.

Back in 2014, the aforementioned Paddy Keenan walked away from Louth despite having so much left to offer, what with him still being among the best centre-fielders in the sport. The drives from his work in Cork to training were taking their toll, but what sealed the deal was they’d no chance of winning anything. It’s the same reason that helped see the likes of Daniel Flynn and John Heslin step away despite their class so yes, there has to be something tangible to achieve. But there’s a balance to strike here for the danger is that almost all of those in a future A championship won’t stand a chance either and a B championship means little. Indeed over the weekend courtesy of Tipperary and Clare, Kildare and Meath, we realised that Division Two and Division Four aren’t all that different.

That’s the crux of the problem for no matter what structure you put in place right now, nearly all of the teams taking part will be poor. Until that changes, no other change matters. A second tier or scrapping the provincial championships as the sole measure would be like taking out the ingrown toenail of a cancer patient and telling them they’re good to go.

Could a new format change that? To a point, but not on its own. As a starting point, the association could look at how the IRFU sell off their TV packages around the Six Nations, meaning stations who gain the rights are obliged to show under-20 and women’s games too. However, that’s the very start of the work that would be needed. After that, there’s the need for help with plans and investment and so much more.

Otherwise, the same lack of energy will simply be transferred into an equal bore. A B Championship is an idea but that has to be a start, not an end, and it must be built on rather than approved.

The fear is that in the rush, that isn’t happening.

The next decade has to be about making bad teams better. Not hiding them away.

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Author: Ewan MacKenna

One of the country's top sports journalists, and a recipient of Irish Sports Journalist of the Year.