Rothar Routes

Cycle routes & pilgrim journeys in Ireland and Europe …..

Posts tagged ‘Tiered Championship’

The GAA’s Berlin Wall

It’s early morning after Éire Óg’s great win in the Leinster Club Championship Semi Final over Portlaoise.

Carlow Clubs will this year contest a 7th Leinster Club Senior Football Final since 1980 and a second Leinster Club Senior Hurling Final. 

Éire Óg first appeared in the 1980 Final when losing to Meath’s Walterstown. Éire Og were trained by Dan Carbery at that time. Dan was from an athletics background – he had ran in the historic first sub four minute mile to take place in Ireland, the first occasion five men had run sub four minutes in the same race. He was a lover of all sports and life long student of sports performance. Dan always claimed the reason they lost the Final was they never truly believed in their ability.

In other words they expected to lose.

Roll on to the glorious 1990s and Laois legend Bobby Miller, arrived into Páirc Uí Bhriain where he instilled that self belief and structures which enabled Éire Óg to transform from an underachieving club from a success starved county into the dominant club team of the decade. 

Five Leinster Club titles. Two All Ireland Final appearances.

They expected to win.

Fast forward to 2000, Éire Óg’s cross town rivals O Hanrahans (100 years old this year) picked up on that self belief and in a changing of the Carlow mindset went on to Leinster glory when defeating Na Fianna of Dublin 1-7 to 0-5.

Mount Leinster Rangers Hurlers fed off this new found self confidence in Carlow club to claim an historic first Leinster Senior Hurling Club title when beating Oulart-the-Ballagh 0-11 to 0-8 in 2013.

Last week St Mullins emulated Rangers by qualifying for this years Leinster Club Final having taken the scalp of two time All Ireland winers Cuala in the opening round and Rathdowney Erill in the semi final.

Two Carlow Clubs contesting the two provincial Senior Club finals in the same year.

There are four senior hurling clubs in Carlow and eight senior football Clubs!

Carlow Senior hurlers and footballers have also achieved ‘above their station’ in recent times.

Despite the great progress of the senior hurlers, they were relegated unnecessarily out of the Leinster SHC. The same fate possibly awaits Laois in 2020. It shouldn’t.

And now the GAA are intent on football apartheid by denying Division 3 and 4 Counties the opportunity to play for the Sam Maguire. Second class citizens of a supposedly community based sports organisation.

Where we all belong’ Yeah right. Slick marketing campaigns may be catchy but are meaningless and insulting.

A genuine dual county. A tiny county.

I compare it to the Berlin Wall. 

An artificial man made barrier dividing the same nation. 

The super powers (GAA HQ) sometimes complete a prisoner exchange and allow a limited number through Checkpoint Charlie. The top 2 teams in Division 3 escape and the bottom 2 in Division 2 are incarcerated.

But the masses have little chance of penetrating that barrier. 

For years we knew little about life in East Germany. It will be like that in the Tier 2. Forgotten. Out of the media spotlight. No opportunity to promote the game. We will become a wasteland.

The sad part is that some of our counties have voted for this.

In the words of the great Jim Larkin, ‘The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise’.

The reason some counties voted for this ludicrous proposal is because their expectations are at an all time low. They have stopped believing.

Dan Carbery was right. 

Bobby Miller was right. 

Henry Ford was right. 

‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right’.

Thank you Éire Óg. 

Thank you O Hanrahans. 

Thank you Mount Leinster Rangers. 

Thank you St. Mullins.

The Trail of Tiers

As I cycled my way across the border counties of Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Armagh and Down from Thursday to yesterday, the invisible border beneath my wheels was often on my mind.

Customs Post at Ballyconnell?

I thought of the impact of Brexit on these communities and those thoughts were interspersed with thoughts of the construct of another invisible border, 350kms away, by an Association that prides itself on creating and supporting communities, the importance of the parish and the county.

By the time I weaved my way towards Armagh, where I met young Ciarán Corrigan, All Ireland U131/2 Road Bowling Champion practising road bowls with his brother and father, around a bend of the old Navan Fort Road, the deed was done.

We had been fenced off. Excluded. We are now Associate members.

The British people were sold a pup by Brexiteers. The establishment pushed a spurious argument that will have consequences for years to come. Self inflicted harm on a national scale.

Brexit is an illusion.

So too is the tiered Championship. 

When a competition has to be dressed up – (curtain raisers in Croke Park, All Star Tours) to be sold to counties it is because it does not stand on its own merits. We are told this competition is to support the ‘weaker counties’, give them a realistic opportunity of winning silverware…..

This is not going to do anything to promote, improve or develop football in the affected counties. Rather it will weaken it, irreperably.

TWO COUNTIES have harvested 13 of the 19 championships played since the new millennium began. Just two counties.

Isn’t it shocking that the other ‘weaker counties’, rated from 3 to 16 have no such competition to participate in and give them a realistic chance of winning…. 

If this tiered competition is so necessary and correct, surely the logical extension now is to also exclude these counties from the provincial championships….after all the history books will show that the provincials are also dominated by a small number of counties. Yes even the Ulster Championship, which has had just four counties win the Anglo Celt Cup since the year 2000…..

I find it truly amazing that suddenly money can be found for more ‘All Stars’ Tours when the weaker counties struggle to make ends meet. These junkets are a sham. Meaningless, non productive, a vulgar display of wealth by an Association that cannot devise more equitable ways of distributing largesse.

When a county owes Croke Park for ticket sales, the funds must be handed over next day. No ifs or buts, yet when Croke Park owes counties money, it’s a struggle to get reimbursed despite the strains on cash flow in most of our counties. City Hall truly is all powerful.

The relegation of counties to tier two is going to affect their ability to attract sponsorship. They find it hard enough to do so currently when there is some opportunity to have a big name county visit and create massive promotional opportunity for the locality. Take that away….. we could literally be looking to the local chipper to buy a set of jerseys…..

There is nothing in the new structure that will replicate the promotional opportunity that we had when playing Qualifier games with the likes of Tyrone and Monaghan in Netwatch Cullen Park. These games were bigger than the result and the impact on children, on our clubs, our supporters cannot be replicated anywhere else. Players from both sides mingled with both sets of supporters on the pitch afterwards. Don’t tell me that Tyrone or Monaghan got easy wins either. They got real tests. But sadly that will NEVER  EVER happen again.

There is no need for a second competition based on tiers. The league is the tiered competition. How difficult is that to understand? The Championship was never about that and in the new reality it still isn’t – for counties 3 to 16 it is still about ‘the big day’, an opportunity to cause an upset, a shock and create a little bit of history, to try make a little progress. They are not going to be winning All irelands under the new set up either.

This new tiered competition is going to rehash the national league fixtures to a large extent. What is attractive to the public about Carlow travelling to Carrick On Shannon or to Limerick, or to Corrigan Park? What if players cannot justify in their own heads that the effort required does not match the reward on offer? These are the true amateurs after all. 

If it is not attractive enough then attendances will be small.

It will still cost these counties the same amount of money to prepare for the Tommy Cooper Cup as for the All Ireland Qualifiers, but with less income to offset the level of expenditure. This competition will be a loss leader. Playing the finals as curtain raiser to the All Ireland will not result in one euro additional income to the GAA – Croker will be sold out anyway!

Make no mistake central funding by GAA will be concentrated on the teams taking part in the Sam Maguire. The gulf widens further.

What are the chances of a reduction in allocation of All Ireland Final tickets to the tiered counties!

There is no development for counties in this structure. Playing the same teams year in, year out is not going to improve the standard in these counties. Croke Park has given up on us. We are not on their radar or if we are, we are that pesky drone that has invaded their air space and needs to be taken out.

The only way to improve is to test yourself against teams at a higher level. This ensures it will NEVER happen. EVER.

How could counties vote for this??

They say history repeats itself. It’s certainly true in the GAA. The same counties dominate. The likelihood is that the tiered championship will be dominated by the teams that sit on top of Division 3. The Leitrims, Wicklows, and Carlows may never win it, mighty never make a final. How attractive will inter county football be then to players and spectators in these counties?

I am sure heaven and earth will be moved to start this tiered championship with a bang, promises will be made but soon forgotten.

Much talk is made of the success of the Joe McDonagh Cup etc in hurling but ask Carlow and Antrim about how promises turned to dust. A day in Croke Park isn’t the measurement of the success of these competitions.

The GAA is in crisis. All of it of our own making.

Some of the biggest reasons are dreadful competition structures; the only learning we seem to take on board is how to make them worse.

We love to play God and tinker with playing rules, yet cannot address the most problematic, the tackle.

We eulogise about the Club but crucify it with how we have pursued elitism in the inter county game – we are in danger of killing the goose that played the gold egg.

The push is on to become more elite. We cannot sustain it.

Those at the top envy the internationalism of other codes and are chasing the exposure and opportunities those codes can attract – TV rights, corporate sponsorship. In doing so we move further and further away from the objectives for which the Association was founded.

We don’t need to ape them. We have something they do not have – a vibrant community based grass root structure that is at the heart of everything that happens in our parishes and counties. Kill that and we are no different.

Associate Members.

Some more photos of a fantastic cycle along the proposed Turas Columbanus:

Upper Lough Erne from above Cleenish Island
Cleenish Island where Columbanus was educated at St. Sinnell’s Monastery
Deerpark Forest Trail, Virginia
Deerpark Forest Trail, Virginia
Glaslough, All Ireland Today Towns Winner 2019
Tynan Cross

Dublin, Funding and Tiers!

Dublin, Funding and Tiers…

Twitter is such an angry place. Between all the rage and the character restriction there isn’t much room for reasoned comment.  Much easier to throw out barbs, attack others, create a twitter storm and stand back and snigger at the damage done to personal reputations There’s been a lot of raw emotion expressed and criticism of the state of football and the dominance of the Dubs. Much of it is justified but it often misses the target.

Here are some of my thoughts for what they’re worth.

This is not an anti Dublin rant. Some of my earliest heroes were the Dublin players of the 1970s. I remember searching Carlow Town as a kid for the Dublin outfit and not finding it, cycling 24 miles round trip to Athy to purchase a Dublin jersey, shorts and socks! It might surprise Dubliners to know they had many admirers outside the Pale – I knew of one Fighting Cocks man who travelled the length and breath of Ireland following Heffos Army!

The turn of the millennium was an ideal opportunity for the GAA to reflect on the needs of the Association in a rapidly changing Ireland. Former President Peter Quinn (our best ever President?) chaired the Strategic Review Committee that produced a really thought provoking analysis of the GAA and its place in Irish society and what the future needs might be.

The founders of the GAA, way back in 1884, were literally operating in a different era and if they were starting all over again in 2000 I am sure they would have thought long and hard about the decision making structures to guide the Association in achieving its aims.

If it’s true that a camel is a horse designed by a committee then the GAA is surely the sporting equivalent of an organisation catering for such diverse interests as parishes, clubs, counties, provinces, hurling and football.

Of course a camel is a brilliantly efficient animal to survive in harsh deserts and likewise the GAA has thrived despite its many disparate parts and interests.

Change is never easy and, in a national institution like the GAA, it is almost impossible to achieve an agreed outcome to so many issues that bedevil the organisation.

When the Strategic Review was under way the Committee recognised the unique circumstances of the Association in the capital city. With a quarter of the population of this island living within the county boundaries, penetration by the GAA was very low. In fact there were large tracts of the capital where there was no clubs present at all. The GAA was losing the battle for hearts and minds.

The powers that be recognised the gravity of the problem and a number of proposals were made to address the issues.

Among them was a proposal to split the county in two and a recognition that a massive financial injection was needed to achieve the objectives of growing participation numbers, improving administration and coaching structures.

The Review Committee had put forward the document for acceptance in its entirety but that did not happen and surprisingly there was support at national and provincial level to provide the necessary funding to tackle the status of the GAA in the capital without the proposed division of the county. 

The proposal to split the county was considered off the wall by many in the Association. Dublin County Board, to their credit, have invested the funding wisely and are harvesting the rewards in terms of their utter dominance at inter county level. Let me acknowledge too the incredible talent in this present day Dublin; a phenomenal bunch, grounded, focused, hard working, dedicated and talented. They have been incredible Champions and look certs to win the 5 in a row. No one can begrudge them if they do. They have set new standards that the chasing pack are finding hard to match.

In this era of fake news, it is disappointing and patronising to hear Dublin’s success credited solely to volunteers as though all other counties are bereft of equally devoted members and players – and that the funding has no impact! If that claim is true it has been money poorly spent. But that Trumpism is patently false. It is disappointing that the public utterances of our top officials is a uniform denial of the impact.

Allied to the other advantages of population, of location, of infra structure, of Croke Park as home venue, of corporate sponsorship, Dublin has turned into a monster that is now out of control and it is surely time for another Strategic Review to recalibrate the financial advantage bestowed on Dublin by the other 31 counties. 

If our counties were member states of the EU, Dublin would be Germany; should Dublin now be a net contributor to the overall Association budget! 

Croke Park and Leinster Council are taking a lot of flak for this imbalance and some of it is deserved – it isn’t right for the other counties to be underwriting the investment in Dublin at this stage. But it was farsighted at the time and it was the correct decision at that time. They deserve credit for that and add in the monies invested across the Association and we get a truer picture of the good work done by the powers that be. Leinster Council has been getting a hammering of late but I believe it is very harsh; the provincial councils are much closer to the grass roots and certainly provide far greater coach education and development. However no one cried halt.

What to do now though is the question.

Redistributing Dublin’s annual financial injection among the other 31 counties would reduce the impact by the time it is distributed pro rata. I think it could be quickly gobbled up by county teams preparations, 

We are probably getting a better return now for our investment because it is so concentrated!

Possibly the best outcome would now be to identify the 2/3 key issues affecting the GAA in selected counties for short term investment and moving on then after a period to another 2/3 priority areas in different counties.

Withdrawing the funding could jeopardise coaching positions across Dublin clubs, although with Dublins commercial clout it is very possible that they can replace the loss of the funding with alternate commercial sources.

 

I don’t think we can throw any more money at the problem of inter county preparations – it has turned into an arms race and all teams are spending ridiculous amounts of money to chase success which seems as elusive as ever. Only one team can win the All Ireland in any year – and for the moment it really is only one team!

Part of the problem we face today is that there does not appear to be a strategy in play. 

We seem to be reactionary. 

Brendan Behan once said that the first item on any republican agenda was the split. I think the same could be said for any unit of the GAA! Like it or not we have created official splits in the GAA through the GPA and the CPA. There should never have been a need for these organisations to be formed but they were borne of necessity because the voice of the ordinary member has been lost in the democratic bureaucracy of the Association.

 

We have competing demands for more inter county games, a better club fixture programme, unnatural expectations of our players and team officials and ever increasing expenditure on county teams.

Why are we discussing a tiered championship in isolation – which will increase the number of inter county games while on the other hand discussing a fairer club fixture programme with the CPA? These are conflicting objectives. We have added in the Super 8s and the new hurling structures and now we decide we need to do something for our clubs. 

What is the end goal?

What type of organisation do we want? 

Are we fulfilling our aims and objectives or have they changed?

Are we for elitism or for mass participation – or is there a balance we can achieve to ensure the rude good health of the Association into the future?

Croke Park has decided to push the introduction of a tiered championship as if this was the solution to all our problems. Last Sunday should have sent a message back that there is only one team in Tier One and the rest can compete in Tier Two. It is not the answer and will do much damage to inter county football down the divisions. Football is much more balanced across the country than hurling and there is a vibrant club scene in all counties. We do not need a tiered championship.

Many desire to provide all teams with a realistic chance of winning and the opportunity to play a final in Croke Park. 

As though winning was all that mattered. It isn’t – surely its the will to win that matters? It’s about getting the best out of yourself and competing at as high a level as possible, its about testing yourself against the best. There is only ever one winner – it doesn’t mean everyone else is a failure.

And if we think a little deeper about that, how realistic is that claim about a chance to win silverware? The likelihood is that the Tier 2 or Tier 3 Championship will be dominated by the teams competing at the top end of Division 2/3. There is a real possibility that counties like my own will never play in a Tier 3 final or maybe do so once in a lifetime but will loose out on the great days that we had over the past few years. Is it worth that trade off? I don’t think so.

Almost all Carlow players would not swap those brilliant days we experienced in recent years for a B competition played in front of empty terraces- and make no mistake the Final will not remain on All Ireland Final Day, as touted, once introduced. The focus of those in favour of this tiered structure is always on a packed Croke Park where these finals will be played as a curtain raiser. But no one mentions all the other games played before sparse attendances, shunned by supporters, barely covered by an over stretched media (they can’t be everywhere!) and the 14 teams that don’t make the Final!

For those advocating the Tiers, we already play these teams every year in the league – we don’t need a duplicate competition, in a GAA version of Groundhog Day, that will not do anything to develop players or county teams. In fact it is likely that this competition will be loss making for the counties involved and require subsidisation – more funding required, more fund-raising by county squads (for those in Dublin, that’s one of the additional demands country lads face, along with those long commutes!). The magic of the Championship is the one off nature of the fixtures, the opportunity to take out a big name.

Going back tot the analogy of the camel, GAA competition structures tend to be camel like too; our Championship consists of knock out, back door and league elements! We are always tinkering with strictures to accommodate the ‘what ifs’ – take the relegation arrangements around Leinster and Munster SHC games. We can’t have it all! As my eldest son, temporarily domiciled in the Phillipines keeps telling me, KFS!

The GAA must decide if is is for elitism or not. If it is, it will inevitably concentrate on the top 4/6 teams and forget about the remainder because counties cannot sustain the level of expenditure. 

Adding in Super 8s and Tiers is only adding to the costs. We cannot generate the income to compete over a longer season. 

If we cannot generate the revenue we need to look at our cost base. And reduce it.

That will mean a more condensed inter county season and less games, not more – better timing of competitions can achieve the same outcome and address many of the issues.

Why should counties (or the GPA) have to travel to the US to raise funds for an amateur sport – robbing the local organisation of potential sponsorship? It’s mad stuff.

The most important competition we have is the League. It’s a brilliant competition played at the wrong time of year.

The current Championship structures favour the strong by giving them a second bite of the cherry should they be beaten. A return to a knockout championship will restore competitiveness and if it is run concurrently with the NFL we could reduce the playing season, reduce the cost of preparations, improve the chances of upsets in the Championships, attract much larger crowds to Friday night league games – played in good weather, improve the calendar for club activity and perhaps save the endangered species that is the dual player…….

It may not be perfect but surely deserving of consideration and possible tweaking….Dublin

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