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Archive for ‘October, 2021’

Alternative Fixture Proposal

I burnt the midnight oil last night trying to put some structure on those random ideas that were flying around in my head earlier while out on my cycle!

Like many others before the call for Proposals in 2016, I tinkered with a restructuring of the Fixtures programme to address the failings of the fixtures programme.

Time moves on but as the weekend has shown, frustration has grown with the inability to agree change. It’s concerning how this debate is framed. It’s always easy side with players but we shouldn’t deny the validity of other points of view. Far better we think independently than follow a herd mentality and get change for changes sake.

The one thing all were united on at Congress was that change is needed and it is needed sooner rather than later. There is a momentum for change and everyone has to now walk the walk.

Martin Wynne (@martywyn) tagged me in a post, and it was a bit of a eureka moment for me. He mentioned an interview with Cahair O Kane of the Irish News in which he talked about a radical change to the NFL. And that for me is one of the keys to unlocking the potential of reforming the entire structure.

Can this work? Maybe maybe not. There are probably flaws in this and I’d be interested to hear what they might be.

(1) It retains the provincial championships. Provincial Councils and their constituent counties have a responsibility to come up with structures for their Championships that are better than the present options. Leinster in particular, with 11 teams should be able to devise a competitive structure – the Ulster Championship being a good example for them to follow. I don’t buy into the defeatism around the Leinster Championship; small things have aided the strongest in the province. Remove seedings; insist on home venues for teams and remove in built advantages for the strong. It can be reformed. Ironically the period of Dublin dominance may be on the wane and the sands of time may bring a natural reordering in the province.

(2) It links the league to the All Ireland. There has been a call for more competitive football in the summer months for all counties. With tightened fixture scheduling it is possible to link the NFL with the All Ireland once the Provincial Championships are concluded. Rather than training ad naseum, players want to reduce the training to games ratio – it makes sense; we are obsessed with drawing out competitions longer than necessary.

(3) It includes all counties. Proposal B really failed a lot of tests in my opinion. No one is excluded here in this and the step up for lower ranked teams is incremental if they progress. In addition the Tailteann Cup is broadened out to include the last sixteen teams, which depending. on results, could in fact include teams from the top two divisions of the league. It’s suddenly a more attractive proposition and if the follow through is that the Final is indeed played alongside the All Ireland Final, then maybe it has a future.

How to solve the Fixtures……

I’m cycling in the dark of night on quiet back roads just over the border in County Laois. Gusty winds. Twinkling stars. I love these autumn nights on the bike.

Waiting on a call from Stevie Poacher. “I’ll call ye in 10”.

Seeking inspiration. How to solve the greatest mystery since the Incident at Dyatlov Pass.

I shuffle my phone playlist while I wait for the call back.

  • Ventura Highway by America. One for dreaming to.
  • I say a Little Prayer by Aretha Franklin
  • A Simple Song (from Mass) by Leonard Bernstein, one of Mary’s great choir pieces.
  • Sting singing Mo Ghile Méar accompanied by The Chieftains. Absolutely Class.
  • The Dixie Chicks belting out The Long Way Around. Great bike song.
  • Bruce and Born to Run
  • Willie Nelson On The Road Again
  • One – U2 & Pavarotti.

I revisit in my mind previous iterations I had devised in 2016 of how to restructure the Championship. Things have moved on since then. Demand for change is growing. Frustrated players feel they are not being heard and would settle for any change at this stage. But whatever we do it can’t be worse than what we have.

Each song raises my spirits; I’m cruising along past Killeshin GAA Club and ideas are flowing through my head. The bike is a great place for thinking. My 20kms passes in what seems like a few minutes. I’m buzzing.

Head in to the house and start typing the bullets flying round in my head before I forget them and have to do it all again!

The outline of what can be an alternative plan is formulating in my head. One that might provide players with more meaningful games, more opportunities for teams to develop, yet retains our Provincial and League Finals and provides ‘layer upon layer’ all within one season. It’s radical. Needs refining. Watch this space!

Stevie calls and he fills me in on the Down Championship semi finals and on the success of his Coaching Clinic last Saturday. A one man whirlwind.

Tweaking is Taunting

Language matters!

Out for a cycle along the Barrow, listening to Saturday Sport discussion of the result of the vote on Proposal B. If this is going to move forward and be a positive, people need to bin the sales pitch. Talk of ‘tweaking’ the proposal is taunting those who opposed this; the points on which this was rejected weren’t minor matters – we are not talking tweaks here; we are talking fundamental change to what was proposed. It will have to be substantially different to what was proposed. The proponents of this proposal must recognise they got this badly wrong or we are doomed to repeat the mistakes again.

Sadly, balance has been lacking in the discussion on national media. Today being a prime example. There were four high profile GAA members interviewed – and all of them passionate but all were in favour of what was rejected. There was no voice representing the rejection of the proposal. Many presenters have been cheer leading the Proposal and nonchalantly dismissing the very valid concerns of those opposed to this particular proposal. Some presenters acted as Influencers. In saying this the provincial councils, when they got the opportunity, were far too defensive and dismissive in interviews during the past fortnight, with one interview being car crash stuff.

At times Saturday Sport sounded like Callans Kicks! I don’t mean to be cruel or demean people but some of the arguments put forward were spurious in the extreme:

Very little opportunity to get All Stars, win Provincial titlesAgreed but how does this Proposal change that?
Referees learning their trade in Division 3 & 4Agreed but how does this Proposal change that?
No opportunity for endorsementsAgreed but how does this Proposal change that?
Training to match ratio is a jokeAgreed but how does this Proposal change that?
Decision making process is a circus; replace delegates with a ‘group of elite level managers, GPA reps, couple of good business people, couple of ex PresidentsReally?

The reason I mention these things is because words matter. People are influenced by what they are hearing and when it’s wrong, they should be pulled up. And there should be balance in the programme.

One thing we all agreed on – even before the debate, change is needed. But it can’t be change for changes sake. Hopefully now that the debate has happened there is greater understanding about what the parameters for designing the structure must take account of.

The factors to be considered are becoming clearer, among them:

  • Unlinking the Provincial Championships not acceptable
  • Positioning Provincial Championships as a preseason tournament not acceptable
  • Competition must be merit based
  • Provincial structures must be improved. Taking Leinster as an example, simple advantages removed for stronger counties – bring in open draw. Dublin not to use Croke Park as a home venue. Teams drawn at home v Dublin play at home. Stop using neutral venues. The success of Ulster Championship is partially down to open draw – indeed winners often begin in the preliminary round – in away venue. Consider Div 4 teams play at home of drawn against team from higher Div.
  • The split season has merit. Define the inter county season. This above all will dictate what can be accommodated. Provinces will have to dovetail with that.

I think this can be done in a short time frame; the players in many counties are rightly frustrated with their lot and change has to come. However no competition structure is going to solve the vast gulf between counties when we have the vast disparity in funding between counties. There has to be a fairer distribution of resources. Centralisation of sponsorship? Spending limits? Central funding of team support structures? Lot still to be done in this regard and that debate may take longer to resolve!

Proposal B is Daft …. Part Two!!

Glad that my blog created talking points about Proposal B. We all want to see our county perform well in the summer months. A Competition structures that achieve those two aims is definitely something to aspire to.

But the more I look at this the more convinced I am that it must be rejected.

8 top teams, drawn from Division 1 and Division 2 will have no summer football in June and July. What was all the clamour for change about? If we based it on the NFL standings of the 2020 League here is what it would look like:

If I am wrong please let me know but this is the scenario based on league finishing positions.

Take it a step further. Imagine that teams from one province dominated the 10 positions for the ‘All Ireland’, sorry ‘Semi All Ireland’, I mean ‘Third of an All Ireland’! Seriously have a look at this scenario, again based on the make up of the four divisions of the 2020 NFL, adjusted to show Ulster teams dominating:

These are real possibilities. Once the league is over – and it is the National Football League, just played in April and May. Dress it up anyway you want, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. And this is the NFL, out of which 10 TEAMS ONLY will contest the All Ireland series.

For the life of me I just cannot see ANY merit in this proposal and I hope it is sent back to the drawing board. Please tell me I have this all wrong. We deserve better.

Proposal B is DAFT!!!!

I’ve been biting my tongue. I now understand how people voted for Trump and for Brexit! The amount of group think happening in the GAA world right now is right up there with the lunatics across the water to our east and west. If social media and bots can influence votes on a grand scale across the USA and the UK, well I guess it can happen here too! This is change for changes sake.

This Proposal is not the solution, not near it, and it’s going to do more harm than good for inter county football. Sorry to say it but this is lemmings marching off a cliff type of behaviour. There is an alphabet soup of better proposals that could be put forward before this ‘dogs dinner’ of a solution.

I hate stereotypes and generalisms but that old ‘an Irish solution to an Irish problem’ springs to mind. Why is it that GAA units design competitions with back doors, side doors and trap doors and think these are equitable and fair ways to run our competitions?

Here we go again. Imagine designing a competition that rewards the 26th and 27th placed teams above the 6th and 7th placed teams. How is that acceptable??? In a very very competitive Division 1 league the margins between finishing in a top 2/3 position and 6/7/8th position is minimal; but ‘you lads are just unlucky’. Bye bye lads till next year oh and we hope you enjoy watching teams 20 places below you progress while you disappear over the cliff with those lemmings…. this is daft…

So we have now rebranded the O Byrne Cup, the McGrath Cup, The McKenna Cup and the FBD League as provincial championships and we are going to play them in the very worst of weather. It’s gonna be riveting. Roll up roll up and book your online tickets before they sell out! Anyone who has trained and played in the NFL in January, February and March know full well that these three months are by far the worst months of the year for GAA. October, November and December are even better months to play our games….so we can expect these provincial championships to be every bit as successful as the much ridiculed pre season competitions…

And for those counties now bating at the breath for the Tailteann Cup, well I hate to break it to them; this competition will probably be dominated by the teams operating at the top end of Division Three. The possibility of a Croke Park Final is as elusive as playing in The All Ireland Final for those counties. We are being sold a pup.

There is a considerable campaign afoot to push this proposal over the line and fair play to those who believe in it. But many of those same people have demonised any opposing voice to this magical solution; ably abetted by many in the media who have a vested interest. Their interest is in having the top teams playing over and over again to fill their column inches and their podcasts. Ching Ching. Once this is up and running watch how the media responds and where the coverage goes. Every other point of view is of dinosaurs and the insulting comments about provincial officials and county officials who hold different views is sickening to read. If I was asked who I thought were the best promoters of our games between the provincial councils and Croke Park, I would select the provincial councils. In my experience their record on the ground is far superior.

As I alluded to earlier, there are a myriad of better solutions that could have been put forward. I don’t know why they have pushed this one. Yes there is need for change – and quite a bit of it but this is not it. Without doubt the League is the most important competition for most counties, probably for 25/26 of them – it is where long term improvement can be made. But the Championship is about the magical days. its about the rare one off victories – just like the FA Cup. Lower ranked teams need days where they rub shoulders with the giants of the game. There is no better vehicle for promoting the game in a county. Yes there are hammerings. The main reason for hammerings isn’t population or sub standard players; it’s the preparation and coaching infra structure a team needs to compete. The Leitrim County Final is rightly being hailed as a classic. How is that possible? Is it because there are in fact good footballers in every county? Yeah I think so. There are very good footballers in every county.

Hammerings happens in every team sport. We need the league and championship running concurrently; we need a defined season. That may mean less games but more quality, more concentrated exposure.

The bigger questions are the patent unfairness in funding and structures that favour the strong larger counties. That even extends to voting rights. It should be equal representation for counties when the issue relates to county competition; yes the larger counties have more clubs and they need to be given proportionate representation – when the issue is a club issue. And how can overseas units have so many votes about competitions they have not part in? The voting system is at best flawed.

Where has the debate gone about funding? Where is the equalisation that we need to develop the smaller units to enable them be more competitive? Even American football and the Premiership recognise the need for positive discrimination in their professional sports. Yet we are an ‘amateur’ sport that allows unequal funding to underpin our competitions to maintain the status quo.

We all care about the game, we all want our county to do but any serious analysis of this proposal will show how poor it actually is.

I’ve blogged about linked issues before but sadly I don’t see any enlightened vision from Croke Park or the GPA on the County scene. Here are links to two previous posts:

The GAA’s Berlin Wall

Dublin, Funding and Tiers

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