Looking back at this year, it’s been a fairly poor Championship. Exciting games were hard to come by, and there were no surprises in the vein of Donegal’s victory against Dublin last year. Granted there were some notable exceptions. We saw Westmeath defeat Meath for the first time in the Championship, we saw Longford recover from an NFL Division 4 Final defeat to Offaly to knock the same team out of the Leinster Championship, and we saw a team that will be playing Division 4 football next year, Wexford, defeat a side who will playing in Division 1 in 2016, Down.
But the overall predictability of the Championship has switched the talk to how the format of the Championship might be changed. Do remember however, that when the backdoor system was launched in football in 2001, it was seen as potentially providing the so-called lesser counties with the chance to progress. What has happened, of course, is that the bigger teams have received second chances.
This has led for some to call for the removal of the provincial championships, and for the introduction of a GAA Champions League. This would not be a good idea, for many reasons.
Before I look at the negative, there is one positive element of these new plans. Taking the big teams, and perhaps particularly Dublin, down to small provincial grounds is a good step. These are great occasions, and practically speaking, they are very important for small towns. A guarantee of 10,000 Dubs would be a great boost for any local economy.
Tradition is rarely a good argument in defence of anything, but when it comes to the provincial championships, it is. The provincial championships breed into the whole local idea of the GAA. Anyone who has ever played Gaelic Football will appreciate the value of local rivalry. Imagine Meath not playing Dublin, or Galway not playing Mayo, for years on end. It would undoubtedly take some of the enjoyment out of competitions.
Similarly the new groups would include teams from Division 1 and Division 4 of the National Football League playing against one another. We already have a system like that at the moment. Dead rubber games would also be part and parcel of any GAA Champions League. Change for the sake of change is a waste of time.
These new ideas have often been proposed with a tandem secondary competition as part of any new arrangement. Let’s call this secondary competition, the Tommy Murphy Cup Part II (TMCPII). It has been proposed to play the games from the TMCPII in Croke Park, and that this will be enough to drum up interest in these counties for such matches.
While it is laudable to play them as curtain raisers to fixtures in the Sam Maguire competition, the first attempt to stage the competition showed us that weaker counties have little interest in being demoted to any secondary competition. Their supporters have even less interest.
Pundits on The Sunday Game talk of how TMCPII would work, but there is little chance, in the next five years, of Derry, Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, ever having to play a match in the new secondary competition. It’s easy for pundits to talk about something which won’t affect their counties.
While there might be some arguments in favour of change, the ones currently proposed don’t seem to have a purpose. They are superficial, while more fundamental change is what is needed to level the playing field. Whether any change in the format of the senior football championship can change the cyclical nature of amateur sport is very much open to question.