Posted by Daragh O Conchuir

It is never easy to make a hard decision and Davy Fitzgerald will sup pints with Tony Considine before the provincial championships will be removed from the structures of the hurling and football championships

2013 Cork Clare
It is never easy to make a hard decision and Davy Fitzgerald will sup pints with Tony Considine before the provincial championships will be removed from the structures of the hurling and football championships.

For a start, they generate too much revenue and are the fulcrum of the power-base of a significant body of administration – the provincial councils.

Apart from that, they offer so many counties an opportunity of playing in a final or winning something tangible; in many cases, these are counties that have little chance of bagging All-Irelands – less so with the big guns having a backdoor route via the qualifiers.

Certainly, there was no masking what it meant to Monaghan, Limerick or Dublin to win the Ulster football, Munster hurling and Leinster hurling championships. It is reasonable to assert that a similar reaction would greet provincial success for Kildare, Sligo, Cavan or Wexford to name just four counties.

But it remains an undeniable fact that as a sub-section of the All-Ireland championships, the provincial structure is inherently flawed because it is inequitable. All the teams don’t start on a par at the beginning of a campaign.

Some can have two games played before another has its first, as occurred with Mayo last year. That might be a disadvantage in terms of being undercooked, an advantage in having to play less games to get to the top. Neither should apply.

It is a bizarre system that one sub-group will have just five teams, with either Kerry or Cork guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals every year. Meanwhile, there are 12 in Leinster and nine in Ulster. Connacht’s opening game involved Leitrim playing New York on a nice weekend junket this year. Ulster had a first-round game between Donegal and Tyrone.

It’s not fair in terms of the quality of opposition being tougher for some teams than others and it’s not fair in terms of the huge gaps between games that can occur.

It is difficult to come up with a solution as they all get shot down. Many of the reasons for dissent are valid too. But the baseline requirement has to be fairness and at first glance, and a second one, it appears that the proposal ventured by Eircom GAA Ambassador, Ciaran Whelan is worth considering.

The former Dublin midfielder believes that there should be A and B championships but that the teams that participate in them should be decided by league form early in the season.

That means everyone has the same chance at the start of the season. Everyone plays the same number of games, with the same number of weeks between them, the same chance for injuries to recover, the same risks of tiredness creeping in or of being undercooked. Even the opening game at the start of February would be very relevant.

Like many, Whelan is troubled by the increasing number of lopsided games right through the summer and they are of benefit to no-one.

“We haven’t really had many games that have gone down to the last couple of minutes and kept us on the edge of the seat so I’m a little disappointed with the entertainment factor from the games” says Whelan.

“I’ve never been a fan of the provincial structure. I think it’s flawed in lots of ways. They’ve become predictable with repetitive fixtures.

“I think the National Leagues should be abolished with provincial leagues played earlier in the year that finish in April. You would need to redraw them slightly to have four groups of eight. You would link performances from the provincial leagues to have A and B championships, meaning that every team has an equal chance at the start of the year.

“You would have 20 teams in the A championships – five from each provincial group – and the remaining 12 in the B. They would be run in Champions League format. It would spice it up, give everybody an equal chance and make every game important from the start of the year.”

As a starting point, it looks a good one. But it’s never easy to make a hard decision.

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