With five Leinster Championships to his name, it’s a sorry state of affairs when a legend like Colm O’Rourke is calling for provincial systems to be scrapped.
While the talk of two-tiers seems to be the most important issue facing the GAA, speaking at his Hall of Fame unveiling last month, O’Rourke made it clear where he thinks problems lie.
“I’d be very happy with a two-tier, a three-tier system but for me, a big problem is the provincial championships,” said O’Rourke.
“At this stage of my life, I’d like a radical transformation of the whole system and get rid of the provincial systems. I don’t think they are doing anything for Leinster or Munster where you have Kerry and Dublin dominating almost for the last 130 years.
“To me, that needs to change. There’s a good Ulster Championship and they wouldn’t want it changed. But I think if you had 10 or 11 teams in groups, play them off and then have your knockout for divisions one, two and three here in August, September that that would be a better, fairer system.”
The Meath legend is on to something. There needs to be a radical overhaul of the provincial systems because it is no longer fit for purpose.
When discussing the validity of the provincial championships, the line normally pushed centres on the heroics of the underdog and the joy that a provincial title can bring to a county. All true, however, history suggests that this is happening less and less.
How often does a shock winner happen in the modern game? Roscommon won a Connacht title this year and the scenes were great. But it was their third win of the decade and they’ve been in four finals in a row. It was hardly a shock result.
You’d have to go back to Sligo in 2007, Leitrim in 1994 and Clare in 1992 for a truly shocking provincial winner (Laois and Westmeath’s victories don’t count as it was a wide-open era for Leinster). That’s three in 27 years. The numbers don’t add up.
This decade has seen 40 provincial championship campaigns, but only 10 counties have triumphed. Dublin (9), Kerry (9), Mayo (5), Donegal (5), Roscommon (3), Tyrone (3), Galway (2), Monaghan (2), Cork (1), Meath (1). There is hardly a minnow among them and it paints a really grim picture.
The lack of competition isn’t the only inherent problem though. The imbalance of it all is a much bigger issue and needs to be addressed.
Eleven teams in Leinster, nine in Ulster, seven in Connacht and six in Munster. On what earth is that a fair and justifiable means of ensuring that the eight most in-form teams qualify for the quarter-final stages?
The season past illustrates this perfectly.
Rebel Without A Cause
Fair play to Cork, who bounced back from relegation to division three of the Allianz Leagues, a real low-point for Cork football, to qualify for the Super 8s. But who did they beat to get there? Limerick and Laois, from division four and three respectively.
Compare that with Cavan, who reached an Ulster final. The Breffni men overcame division one Monaghan, and a tier-two Armagh, before their campaign was ended with back-to-back defeats to Donegal & Tyrone, both now Division One.
How does a team qualify for a quarter-final with a 33 per cent win ratio from three games having played just one top-tier side? Yet, a team with a 40 per cent win ratio from five games against three top-tier outfits falls short.
Seriously. It’s a bit of a laughing stock when you consider it.
Of course, when this viewpoint is spread into the realm of social media it is met with the usual vitriol, as will this column no doubt. For the record, this is not a slight on Cork, who justified their inclusion in the Super 8s with their performances. It’s highlighting flaws in a system that, in its current format, has run its course.
The rebuttal that this is how it has always been, and those highlighting the issue are coming from a position of ‘sour grapes’, is wrong.
Think about it. We’ve been working off the same system to decide who should be at the business end of the Championship since 1888 – it’s madness. Time has moved on and so to should the GAA as a means of deciding who the best teams in the country actually are.
So Cork are in the #super8s after beating Limerick and Laois. Meanwhile Armagh are out despite beating Down & Monaghan, taking Cavan to a replay and running Mayo to the wire. A system overhaul is badly needed. This just cannot go on. #GAA #GAABelong @PunditArena
— Michael Corry (@MickCorryPA) July 7, 2019
The resistance to structural change is eerily similar to the United States and their insistence that a constitution written in 1787 should still apply to the letter.
Let’s Open It Up
Yeah, it’s been this way for years, but that doesn’t make it right. Really, this issue should have been up for review once the qualifier system was introduced in 2001. Everyone knows, however, that the GAA are slow to change and that’s fine.
The time is now though for a proper debate on the future of the provincial championships. Instead of trying to rush through a tiered system that few are in favour off, why can’t we properly review all of the issues facing Gaelic football? An administration of suits should never decide what changes need to occur when many of them see it as a means to cementing legacies.
The legacy of the games means so much more.