John Ivory puts forward the idea of two-legged ties in the All Ireland to avoid teams enduring weeks of training without competitive action.
Author’s Comment: I’ll start by saying, I don’t take away anything from the teams who have won All-Irelands recently, or in bygone eras. It’s just that the way things can pan out, a team need only play well four times to win the Hurling Championship, and five to win the football. When there’s so few games, how are we really sure we see the best team scale the Hogan steps in September?
We Irish believe we have the best games in the world in Gaelic Football and, especially, Hurling. Attendances rival those of professional leagues, across different sports, all over the globe. The excitement is unbridled and the commitment from those who partake in the Gaa is second to none.
We cocoon ourselves in our idyllic sense of Irishness when it comes to Gaelic games, and due to the uniqueness of the games, a bubble has been formed around the sports, to the extent that outside ideas are alien to us, and so, we are very slow in accommodating them.
The back door system was revolutionary when it was introduced into hurling in 1997, and football in 2001. The undisputed benefits of hawk eye are to be seen in Croke Park, something which could have happened years ago. Furthermore, the introduction of the black card has made for fairer football games this season.
Nowadays GAA decision makers are fairly on the ball, (pardon the pun) when it comes to adapting both codes when urgent issues arise, case and point, ’’the Nash rule’’.
Dozens of motions are debated, and passed annually at congress, ranging from smaller issues, like the numbering of jerseys, to more significant, game environment related ones, like the black card.
This edition of the Football and Hurling Championships have been as exciting as any so far. Top quality viewing, with drama, exquisite scores, and a few draws for good measure.
The one thing the GAA hasn’t addressed is the structure of it all. It shouldn’t be an endurance test for some, and a monthly outing for others. Never has the gap for some counties, or the congestion of fixtures for others, been so talked about.
While one team can play four, maybe five weekends in a row, others have to toil through endless training sessions for as many as six weeks before they feel the eyes of the multitudes of fans on their necks in the searing heat of the Championship.
Nothing is fair in sport and you get what you deserve, but seeing a team play their fifth match in a row, tire in the last minutes and watching all their hard work unravel, isn’t really what it’s all about.
Having said that, we often see teams who’ve had a month or more off falter due to rustiness. There are so many variables associated with games, aside from weather or refereeing decisions, scheduling really shouldn’t be one of them.
The win or bust element of the Championship is something we cannot lose. But do we always have the ‘’best’’ team capturing an All-Ireland each year? A team having an ‘’off day’’, or tiring, or being rusty shouldn’t have a bearing. The playing field should be equal for all thirty plus men involved. Previous encounters shouldn’t add, or reduce their chances of progression to the next round.
I’m no expert on the NBA, but they have a decent system of determining who the best is. They play their round robin games, the top teams qualify for playoffs, and then it gets interesting.
Instead of the playoffs being based on a one-off, winner takes all, at least four games are played to see who comes out on top.
It’s a bit extraneous, the possibility of seven games, and is a non-runner for the amateur Gaa, but why not have a two-leg aggregate system from around the quarter finals on?
I am a firm believer in the Provincial Championships as they provide an ‘’All-Ireland’’ of sorts to many counties. Any player who says they don’t want to win a Provincial title with their team is lying.
A Champions League style competition seems best suited, if a change was to be made. Start fresh after the Provincial Championships. Put all the participating Counties into a hat, draw out the pairings, and go from there.
As the Championship would progress, each team facing each other will have had the same break, and close to the same amount of Championship matches.
A home and away system could be used in the early stages, (we don’t want to upset the Croke Park residents) and then move into Croker for the Quarter Finals, or even later.
All it means is more games for players, which they want, more games for fans, which we want, and more games for the GAA, and we all know they wouldn’t be opposed to a few more games. Who know they might even lower the price of a ticket with the busier schedule?
Obviously, some teams will still have longer gaps between games than others, that’s unavoidable, but a condensed Provincial series can only be better than the six weeks off the Limerick hurlers had between semi-final, and final, or the four weeks on the bounce the Wexford hurlers have had.
It’s not a perfect system, or even a genuine solution, it’s just food for thought. The Championship is petty good as it is, but there’s always room for improvement.
With a more conformed structure, we could remove some the unnecessary ‘’fatigue/ sharpness’’ debate effecting the matches, and be left with every team going at it hammer and tongs, no excuses.
John Ivory, Pundit Arena.