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04th Jul 2018

The GAA lose touch with reality in bid to create interest and excitement

Jack O'Toole

So you have this competition where just four counties have contested the last seven finals.

One of those counties has won the competition three consecutive times and has received €15,427,560 more than any other county in coaching and games development grants over the last decade and they also have the biggest sponsorship deal in the country.

That same team has won 13 of their last 14 provincial championship finals, but instead of overhauling that outdated structure, where two of the other three aforementioned teams have also contested at least six of their last seven provincial finals, the GAA overhauls the quarter final stages of the competition and implements a group stage format instead.

The reasoning? To increase the interest at the peak of the GAA season and provide a much wider opportunity for the country’s best teams to display their skills.

“It [The Super 8s] would provide a valuable enhancement of the championship by way of eight additional competitive matches contested by the country’s eight best teams,” read a GAA statement on the initial proposal of the Super 8s in 2016.

“The group games would increase interest at the peak of the GAA season and provide a much wider opportunity for the country’s best teams to display their skills and the qualities of Gaelic football in summer playing conditions.

“The new structure would provide a more exacting pathway to the All-Ireland final: the finalists will have had to compete with three of the best teams in the country at the group stage, followed by a semi-final with a top-four team that came through the same test.

“This will have the effect of ensuring that the finalists will have been equally tested and that the two best teams in the country contest the All-Ireland final.”

So the proposal is passed and introduced on a three-year trial basis. Unsurprisingly, three of the four teams that have contested the last seven All-Ireland finals are there in the Super 8s and it’s now getting close to the time to see the country’s best teams display their skills and the qualities of Gaelic football in summer playing conditions.

But what’s the GAA’s first move to maximise interest? Schedule the opening round of the series to coincide with the biggest game in the biggest sport in the world – the World Cup final.

This comes just one week after their communications director hailed those responsible for this decision as ‘experienced’ and ‘distinguished’.

“Some of the most experienced and distinguished administrators in the GAA, including our provincial secretaries, serve on the CCCC,” GAA communications director Alan Milton said after the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee decided to move Kildare’s home game with Mayo from Newbridge to Croke Park.

“They’ve organised hundreds of games down through the years. They have vast experience.”

And yet, these experienced and distinguished administrators, the visionaries that have organised hundreds of games down through the years, scheduled one of their season’s marquee games with the biggest sporting game on their planet, just one week after they engaged in a stand-off with a county that called them out for depriving a team of home advantage in favour of placing that team in a double header at the biggest ground in the country. In the interest of safety of course.

The head of the CCCC Ned Quinn, a man you would presume to be the most experienced and distinguished administrator of all the experienced and distinguished administrators in the GAA, said on OTB AM last week that the decision to schedule Kildare’s round three qualifier with Mayo at Croke Park was based on ‘not wanting to create animosity’ among supporters who couldn’t get tickets.

Meanwhile Feargal McGill, the GAA’s director of games administration, another man who we are supposed to believe is among the most experienced and distinguished administrators in the GAA, issued an ultimatum to Kildare.

“The game has been fixed for 7pm in Croke Park, and that is not going to change under any circumstances,” McGill told the Irish Times on Monday, June 25.

“We fully appreciate where Kildare are coming from. We don’t take home venue off of a team lightly. However, health and safety has to come first. It’s that simple.

“The last thing we wanted to do was take this out of Newbridge, but we simply had no choice. There is no room for manoeuvre, not when it comes to health and safety.

“If Kildare don’t show up in Croke Park on Saturday at 7.0pm the game will be awarded to Mayo.”

By Wednesday, June 27, the game had been moved to St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge with the GAA categorically denying that a decision to move a game – that was not going to change under any circumstances according to their director of games administration – was not based on motivation to garner extra ticket revenue, or to suit a double-header for a broadcaster, but rather in the interest of safety, despite assurances from local Gardai in Kildare ahead of the game that they were confident and prepared with plans to host said game in Newbridge.

The game was ultimately moved to St Conleth’s Park and Kildare reaped home advantage with a two-point win over Mayo but new issues from new counties soon arose thereafter.

Donegal requested a meeting with the GAA to ask the association why three-time defending All-Ireland champions Dublin were entitled to play two games at Croke Park, a ground where they have not lost in the championship since 2014 and where they play their home league games, while every other county is entitled to just one game at home.

Their answer will be interesting, however, whatever the rationale may be or however farfetched it may seem, the GAA’s experienced and distinguished administrators have spent most of their time over the last few weeks acting as part-time firefighters jumping from one blaze to the next.

They want to generate added interest in a new series yet they schedule one of its biggest games at the same time as the biggest game in world sport.

They wanted to strip a team of home advantage to cater for a greater number of fans in a bigger stadium in a bigger city and they crawled back down the money tree and closer towards earth, or Newbridge in this instance.

They give the best team in a competition the added advantage of playing two games at a venue they have not lost in that competition since 2014 and they are immediately questioned why that is permitted by the county that is forced to play them there and two of their own games away from home.

The GAA wanted to create interest, excitement and wider opportunities to showcase skills with the Super 8s and there hasn’t even been a game yet and we’re already questioning issues of fairness, logic and true intentions from those at the top.

The Super 8s has been implemented on a trial basis but we’ve already seen some spectacular failures from the early experiments.

How the association proceeds from here will tell us a lot more about the mad scientists than it will about the nature of their trials.

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