Columnists

Time to move the League goalposts - to November - and ditch McKenna Cup

24 February 2018; Iar Uachtarán Aogán � Fearghail, left, with the incoming Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael John Horan after the handing over ceremony of the Presidential Medal during the GAA Annual Congress 2018 at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras � Mídheach/Sportsfile.

THE weather has spoken. Then again experience will tell us that if flood waters don’t get you, the blizzards will.

That GAA authorities feel it necessary to cram every Dr McKenna Cup game and Allianz League game into the first three months of the ‘calendar’ year is as unrealistic as it is stupid.

You have to, at this point, feel that discontinuing the McKenna Cup is necessary.

If the GAA authorities are unwilling to do the decent thing and discontinue the competition then it has to be left with the county boards themselves to vote with their feet and refuse to field a team.

Nobody wants to take this course of action, but it seems increasingly obvious that effective change doesn’t ever seem to work for those who have the power to make decisions.

Most county teams are starting their training in October (even sooner for some) so why not start the National League in November?

This was a past practice, remember.

Run off the League over the next two to three months, allowing for Christmas and the weather, of course.

With club teams still involved in senior, intermediate and junior All-Ireland competitions, player participation already affects county preparations in this instance, so really nothing much will change in that regard.

This would leave it easier to revive an ailing club system, ensuring that most counties can comfortably start their leagues in March and April, again allowing for bad weather.

It would also allow county teams to prepare for the Championship adequately and not make a complete farce of April, which is allegedly set aside as ‘club only’ time.

We can already see that the dates for the League’s divisional finals will be affected by last weekend’s cancelled games, pushing them into April.

And, under the current proposals, if you are the county manager, are you really going to set aside your Championship preparations for the entire month of April?

As a county manager, how do you secure access to inter-county players who are desperately seeking to appease everyone by cramming as many club games into 30 days as possible, while presumably training for the county as well?

By my calculations, you would need to increase the amount of days in the week to 14 and increase the amount of days in April to 60.

If the GAA authorities could do that, it really would be something.

The single biggest issue affecting the GAA now is the calendar. It has been for some time.

By starting the National League earlier, the only thing the weather proved was that it solves nothing.

Would it be any different in November? Perhaps not, but it allows the GAA considerably more wriggle room, something that is currently lacking.

Our new GAA president, John Horan, has indicated that he envisages a two-tier Championship by 2021.

I say ‘our’ because he is working on behalf of every GAA member in every club in the country.

But is a two-tier system what ‘we’ want?

Horan may have a personal view, in the same way that some people think Dublin should be split in two.

In GAA terms, though, my understanding of delegates is that their personal view should be left at the door.

Certainly, they have an opinion, but the GAA is a democracy and must be bound by the interests of all members, not just a privileged few.

Indeed that was one of the very reasons why the transparency motion was put forward by the GPA at Congress recently.

Needless to say that 83 per cent of delegates still voted to follow the ‘North Korea template’ of secrecy.

So delegates to Congress can still vote their own way, even if directed to vote another.

If the GAA president does decide his one mission is to restructure the Championship into two tiers, it may well take him until 2021 to garner enough support and, even then, I am not sure he will have enough votes to carry such a proposal.

The competitiveness of League football is certainly to be praised.

Playing at ‘your level’ appears to enthuse players and supporters.

Just think for a minute about how much air-time the second, third and fourth division teams have received on RTé’s highlights show.

How many Division Three and Four games have been televised on TG4?

Naming a second-tier Championship the Paidi O Se Cup would be a brilliant tribute to the man himself.

However, it will always be a ‘B’ Championship and much like the coverage of the lower leagues now, over time teams will get less and less exposure and eventually, none.

I certainly would not consider some of the Antrim players any less committed and entitled to compete for the Sam Maguire as a Tyrone player, for example.

In fact, the Antrim player continues to commit to a professional lifestyle with little to no chance of reward, as opposed to a Tyrone player, who won’t be far away from an Ulster final at least in most years.

Perhaps the answer lies with a compromise on the Championship structure?

It would certainly add spice to first round games if the losing team is eliminated from an ‘A’ Championship and as a consequence automatically drops into the ‘B’ Championship.

The Championship and calendar crisis only came into being in 2001 when commercially it made sense for the GAA to allow teams a ‘back door’ into the Championship.

Prior to ’01, club football thrived in many counties as county teams only had one shot at the Championship.

When the county side were beaten, players returned to club football and the leagues and championships continued unchecked.

I believe that the general consensus among members is that club football was a lot stronger in the past than it is now.

The standards at club level have not improved in many counties unfortunately.

For teams like Crossmaglen, Ballinderry and St Gall’s, the issues are becoming the same.

Younger generations no longer see the commitment to their community and club teams as fundamental.

Yes, they possibly care, but on their terms.

Increasingly, however, they just do not care enough.

And this is not just consigned to the GAA.

I know of coaches working in soccer and rugby who experience similar apathy from the younger generation, although there are clearly exceptions to every rule.

If the big issues of the calendar and the Championship were properly addressed, a lot of secondary consequential issues would reconcile themselves.

Not all of the solutions have to be radical or new. Moving the League programme to November and running the GAA as a season and not as a calendar year is one idea.

Spicing up first round Championship games by making them knock-out in terms of the Sam Maguire is another.

Now for the easy bit – getting the delegates to vote for it. Easy.

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