Changes are needed or the 'also rans' may stop running

By Ray Silke

If Dublin continue to dominate how will young players from counties without a hope of competing keep committing themselves. Photo: Sportsfile

If Dublin continue to dominate how will young players from counties without a hope of competing keep committing themselves. Photo: Sportsfile

We are extremely fortunate to have two really healthy and fit six-year-old twin boys, Oisín agus Fiach. Probably as a result of having more of his mother’s DNA –  I was no greyhound - Fiach is currently a good bit faster at running than his older brother – seven minutes is a lot of time when you are a twin looking for bragging rights. Fiach's nickname with some of his friends at school is “Speedy McGee”. I have no idea why either.

Already I notice when they are out playing, having races and having the craic that Oisín does not bother with sprints with his twin, as his learned experience is that he never wins. It is not that he cannot, it is just he never does. So even at six years of age, youngsters can process the information that someone is normally better than they and then they can decide to engage or not to do so. And if nobody engages, then you don’t have a competition or a race.

Based on the sporting experiences that a lot of current inter-county footballers have had over the past decade it is to their credit that they are still training as hard as they are for the lure of possible inter-county success and wearing the county jersey. This weekend the provincial football championship kicks off in earnest with Louth and Carlow and Laois and Wicklow in action on Saturday and other minnows such as Offaly and Longford togging in Tullamore on Sunday. Nobody expects any of those teams to even go close to challenging for a provincial title, never mind beating the mighty Dubs.

Wicklow 1,000/1 to win Leinster

To prove that point, Carlow and Wicklow are currently 1,000/1 to win the Delaney Cup with Jim Gavin’s men at 14 to one on. In fact of the six Leinster teams starting out this weekend on what will be in all probability be a very short championship run, Laois are the lowest odds at 66/1 to win the provincial title.

So the nub is this – how long can GAA head-office and the policy makers who go to convention every year expect rational, logical, and intelligent young men to commit to a cause when they must know in their hearts and heads that they have no real chance of any real tangible success in the provincial championship.

A lot of inter-county managers have spoken this year about the fact that growing numbers of players are not prepared to commit to the cause. And even when they do so for the league, as three young Tipperary players have done this week – they head off for the championship, as is their prerogative.

From speaking to a few different players who have not been prepared to try out with Galway this season their view is that the opportunity cost of inter-county sport is too high. Some of the younger guns are heading stateside for the lure of the Yankee dollar and a good time - and some of the older lads are focusing on their career, their club, or relationships, or saving for a deposit for a house. As one very talented young player put it to me last January when he decided not to throw in his lot with Galway, “I don’t want to bust myself for six months and then only get one championship game and one or two in the qualifiers.”

The big issue in Leinster is that Dublin keep getting stronger with their demographic and economic advantages really coming to the fore now, and the Leinster championship has become totally predictable and boring. Mayo’s total dominance of Connacht over the past five years may hold sway for another season or two, and the Kerry and Cork duopoly in Munster will never be broken down unless there are genuine changes to the provincial format. The GAA is a monolith as regards change, however Irish society and the young men and women who inhabit the island has changed drastically in the past 20 years and the GAA needs to take cognisance of that fact. What worked in the past may not work in the future and it is highly unlikely that the provincial championships will still be as effective as they have been in their current format in 2026. At some stage the players from Carlow, Wicklow, Fermanagh and Antrim will say to themselves, - “We are not taking part in this one sided annual beating. We have better things to do with our time."

And who could blame them? A lot of young players in weaker counties are opting out already and it is something that the GAA needs to address or the annual “also rans” will stop participating in a race they cannot conceivably win.

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