GAA must act to save football championship

Comment & Opinion

THE SKY’S THE LIMIT Mayo’s Darren McHale palms in his first goal against Leitrim during Sunday’s one-sided Connacht SFC semi-final in Castlebar. Pic: Conor McKeown

One sided nature of provincial championship games destroying competition

IT was business as usual for Mayo on Sunday afternoon as James Horan’s team qualified with consummate ease for a clash with old rivals Galway in this year’s Connacht football final on July 25.
Mayo had to deal with a Covid outbreak in the week before the game but they were simply on a different planet to Leitrim during a game which was shown live on RTÉ and made it clear for all to see that something must now be done to the competition to make it more appealing.
We all know the huge appetite there is in Mayo for Gaelic football but despite the fact our great supporters have been starved of live action during the pandemic, the GAA could not even sell 3,500 tickets for the game.
That is indeed a stark warning for the powers that be. Not even a small section of Mayo’s huge following felt the need to fork out €30 to watch this drubbing, with everyone knowing full well, even Mayo’s second team would be far too strong for a hapless Leitrim.
Indeed, apart from the excellent game between Donegal and Derry on Sunday afternoon, all the other football championship games so far have been hopelessly one sided and devoid of the real intensity normally associated with the Gaelic football championship.
There is a real reluctance in GAA headquarters to get rid of the provincial championship but if it must stay, it should be as a secondary competition, and as Mayo GAA legend Cora Staunton stated on RTÉ television on Sunday, a senior, intermediate and junior format is the most obvious solution.
This works very well in ladies GAA and each year, six teams get the chance to play in an All-Ireland final against teams who are off a similar standard, with the opportunity to progress year on year.
The hurling championship is not perfect but at the moment seven or eight teams, at the start of every season, can dream of winning an All-Ireland title, but in the football championship there is possibly only three teams. Dublin and Kerry are well out in front, and despite Pat Spillane’s continuous deriding of Mayo, the statistics of the last decade show Mayo also have to enter the equation with talking about outright winners.
The bookmakers currently have Dublin and Kerry at much shorter odds, but they have Mayo clearly in third position, ahead of Donegal, Galway and Tyrone. The lopsided nature of the competition is again shown by the fact that next on the list is Cork and Monaghan at massive odds of 66/1 followed by Kildare and Armagh at 80/1.
Change has to be in offing. It will take guts and leadership to take the bull by the horns, but an organisation like the GAA cannot survive with dwindling attendance figures post the Covid pandemic, and that should force the changes needed, sooner, rather than later.

England woe
The big sporting action of the weekend took place at Wembley in London with the Euro 2020 final taking place between England and Italy. The postponed tournament has really captured the imagination over the last month and England’s run to the final has divided opinion on whether we should have been supporting our near neighbours here in Ireland. In the end, Gareth Southgate’s team had to endure more penalty shoot-out heartache, and those group of players will this week find it hard to deal with the fact that they came so close again to winning a major tournament. Here in Mayo, we know only too well how agonising it is to go so close time and time again when chasing those major honours. However, the pain of those defeats is still driving our players on, and England will now have to dust themselves down and have a right crack at next year’s World Cup in Qatar. They undoubtably have the talent but their manager maybe has to be more adventurous if they are going to win the Jules Rimet trophy.