Colm O’Rourke: Shorter Championship could play into Dubs’ hands

Cos Dublin need all the help they can get, right?

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If a decision is not made by mid-May on the GAA championship, then we’re going to have some sort of slimmed-down Championship version. If that happened, then you would be looking at a straight knockout championship and if that happened, I’ve no doubt that it would be an advantage for Dublin.

They’re so highly motivated and you only have to look at the league games they played this year to see that. With the current lockdown likely to go on for some time, there’s no doubt that it is going to be tougher on the smaller counties to prepare for the championship because their best way to prepare for those games was always through the league and with some counties, through getting promoted.

GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay, Croke Park, Dublin 14/9/2019
Dublin vs Kerry
Dublin’s Ciaran Kilkenny
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

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A lot of counties will feel that they’ve no hope in the championship anyway so they mightn’t be too worried about keeping fit. The bigger counties will have no problem on that front because their players will be highly motivated and they will train away on their own. If Dublin didn’t have collective training sessions, their players would probably turn up for the next game as fit as ever.

That’s the way they are but if you’re talking about Waterford, Wicklow, Carlow, Leitrim or Fermanagh or a whole load of other counties, the motivation for the championship is not going to be quite as high because they would see themselves as having no chance in the provincial championship and probably lose their early games in the qualifiers.

There’s not much in it for those counties.

Back to the possibility of a new-structured championship. Here’s how it would work. You could run it over nine consecutive weekends between a provincial championship and a knockout championship. You could run the provincial championships over four weeks and then five weeks would be enough to run the remainder of the championship after that.

You could have a thing that after the provincial championship, every team who was knocked out was put into a hat and it would still be run off over the next five weeks. What’s happening now is that the Championship is a drawn-out affair but what this could prove is that it’s possible to run off the Championship quite quickly and if that does happen, maybe a lot of counties would say that this isn’t such a bad system of all.

That would mean more time to play the clubs matches and maybe this is the future.

It would also mean the end of the Super 8’s but that’s no loss. I think they have been a disaster and we saw that last year. In one group, you had Meath losing all of their games and then in the other group, you had Dublin and Tyrone playing a farce of a game in Omagh. It was at that stage when everybody should have said this shouldn’t go on any longer. It should be put to bed because no competition should be based on generation of finance, especially an amateur organisation. To me, it’s been a joke.

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It’s also looking as though the National Football League is going to be scrapped and I think that’s the right thing to do. It was hard to know what was going to be done as the last two rounds were going to decide a lot. Yes, it’s a big advantage to the likes of Meath, who were already relegated while it’s a disadvantage to the likes of Cork and Limerick, who were going to come up out of Divisions 3 and 4.

Allianz Football League Division 1, Pairc Tailteann, Co. Meath 1/3/2020
Meath vs Galway
Galway’s Paul Conroy under pressure from David Toner of Meath
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Brian Reilly-Troy

There are swings and roundabouts here and there’s no doubt that there are some big winners. Meath are the biggest winners of all as they were going straight back down to Division 2 after one year in the top flight. They’ve been saved by the bell and it doesn’t suit Cork, who were going to get promoted from Division 3 so they’re going to have to stay another year in that division. There were other options to end the league with the current standings or run the league off later in the year but it wouldn’t have been fair to base anything on the present games without looking at the last two rounds. And the option of continuing the league after the championship would have a huge effect on club football as September and October is already cleared up for those games.

On that basis, those ideas are probably non-runners.

But back to Dublin, and while they have used the league as a stepping stone and preparation for the championship in the past, I’ve no doubt that they’ll benefit most from whatever happens. The likes of Brian Howard, Brian Fenton, Ciaran Kilkenny and James McCarthy wanted to play in every game for every minute in the league and there’s no such thing as taking time off and resting on their oars for those lads.

You’ve got to remember too that the competition in the Dublin set-up is so hot that they keep themselves in peak fitness to be ready to go again. Kerry players will be the same so what will happen here is that when things resume, the gap between the really good teams and the rest will just widen.

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