So now we are at the business end of the season, the safety net of the back door is gone and every game is now knock out. So what of the 2013 provincial championships? This Summer, more than most, there were numerous calls for a restructuring of the Championship with scrapping the provincial championships being a common theme. They were ” not fit for purpose” according to some commentators. Some called for a tiered system. There were an above normal amount of one sided games which caused this opinion but ask London and Monaghan if they would be in favour of a tiered system and I’m sure you will not find much support.
The provincial system does have its faults, an Ulster team has to do a lot more ground work to get to the quarter final weekend than a Munster side for example.
This is the province that provides the most competitive games and a huge reason why people say the provincial championships should be kept when arguing their case. While other provinces had lopsided games, every game in Ulster was eagerly contested. There is a case to be made that the 2014 Ulster championship has 6 or 7 genuine contenders for the title with only Fermanagh and Antrim not really in with a shout.
This years Ulster championship threw up some competitive games as well as some surprised with Cavan defeating Armagh being the main one, subsequent results have shown that it shouldn’t have been a major surprise. Monaghan winning the Ulster title breathes new life into the championship too, as if Donegal had completed 3 in a row then Ulster would have felt a lot less competitive than it does now.
Connacht has, despite its bashings in the national media, been the most competitive province in recent years. From 2007 – 2010 there were four different winners. The finals between 2006-2010 were all decided by a single point. This has changed now with Mayo dominating in the West, completing 3 in a row this year. It is not that Mayo completed 3 in a row that has made in uncompetitive but rather the way the won the Connacht title this year beating Galway, Roscommon and London by 17, 12 and 16 points respectively. That, plus the fact that Mayo are the provinces only Division 1 team means that this dominance could stay for the foreseeable future. Roscommon have had good underage sides for a number of years now but look as far away as ever from making a breakthrough. Galway have won All Ireland at Under 21 level in recent years and have put a good run together in the qualifiers, thought their wins over Tipperary and Waterford were far from convincing, their win over Armagh has generated some positivity around the Tribesmen. Galway will get a real feel of where they are at when they play Cork. A win would be great and mean Galway have really rebounded, but a loss in a competitive game will mean they have something to work with, a heavy loss could set them back a lot.
On the other side of the draw the pro-provincial championship argument can be made. London won two Connacht championship games for the first time in their history to make the Connacht final. They beat Sligo by a point and beat Leitrim by a point after a replay, meaning that the other side of the draw had 3 competitive games with a feel good story in London reaching a provincial final.
It was far from a vintage Connacht championship but Mayo bridged a 63 year gap since their last 3 in a row, while 2013 will be fondly remember in London GAA circles.
The Munster championship is a real cause of discontent for anti provincial championship people and indeed for a lot of Ulster GAA fans who see Kerry and Cork stroll through the early Summer while other sides have to battle hard from the start of the championship. This is the least competitive of the championships with Clare’s win in 1992 being the last time one of the “Big Two” down South did not win the Munster title. Cork and Kerry handed out two big beatings each to Tipperary, Waterford, Clare and Limerick en route to a clash against each other in the Munster final. It is seen as an unfair advantage that Cork and Kerry can tailor their training to August more so than other sides who could be beaten early in more competitive provinces.
The problem lies with the other four counties who clearly do not believe they can beat either side. Tipperary and Limerick both had good championship runs this year but failed to build on that in this year’s championship. The fact that the four of them operated out of Division 4 this year shows the huge gulf in class that does exist in the province. Also the fact that the four of them are hurling counties, Cork is too but is big enough to sustain two successful codes, adds to the Munster “problem” as county boards are more interested in hurling success or even if they do try and split the focus evenly it doesn`t get away from the fact that Kerry are 100% focused on football.
For Munster to be competitive it needs these at least one, Tipperary have had good underage success, of these sides to challenge the status quo.
In terms of winning the Leinster title the Eastern province is an uncompetitive one with Dublin winning 8 of the last 9 titles. Different teams have reached finals but nobody has challenged Dublin on a consistent basis. Kildare have been touted as the next best in the province but they have flattered to deceive on numerous occasions.
So what of those questions suggesting a two tiered system or a 8 groups of 4?
This would lead to more mismatches than we currently have. Instead of Kerry hammering Waterford it will be Dublin, Donegal or Mayo. A two tiered system would have meant that Monaghan would not have had their day in the sun and would not be in the quarter final. There is reason to change things up but the ideas thrown around this summer are not the way forward. The provincial championships may have been uncompetitive but they are better than a group stage for competitiveness and better than a two tiered system for inclusiveness.
A provincial medal still means a lot and is something to cherish. The provincial championships are going nowhere yet.