Is the romance of winning a provincial title dead?

GAA: Casey's Call

I’d always be open to progression and forward thinking in the GAA but I can’t get my head around Galway competing in the Leinster Hurling Championship. It doesn’t sound right. Galway; Leinster hurling champions. It did, of course, happen a number of years ago when the Galway hurlers defeated Kilkenny in the Leinster hurling final. That victory, in my opinion, cost Galway an All-Ireland title as Kilkenny went on to beat Galway in a replay in the All-Ireland final later on that year.

The surprise factor was gone. Kilkenny got their wake up call and knew what to expect. Had Galway gone on as Connacht representatives, as was the norm, they would have  probably beaten Kilkenny first time round in the final that year. It brings me to my next point; the romance of winning your provincial football title is all but dead in every province, except Ulster where any number of teams could prevail.

The back door is a positive move in Gaelic football, but it certainly has taken the gloss off winning in your province. Dublin, Mayo, Cork and Kerry and even Donegal now don’t care about triumphing and claiming provincial glory. Hands down, I could tell you who won in every province for the 20 years previous to the qualifier system being introduced, as I would have been enthralled watching semi finals, and knew to get there you had to come out on top within your jurisdiction. I won two Connacht u21 medals and three Connacht senior medals as a Mayo player, and each and every one of them was precious because they were extremely hard fought for, and through those victorious campaigns in Connacht at least one game could have gone either way in claiming that title. I have to admit that beating Galway, who were All-Ireland champions in Tuam in 1999, was sweet but for me at the time it was all about getting to Croke Park again. But little did I know at the age of 25 that would be the last Nestor cup I would win.

I felt I would win at least another three or four as a player. A lasting memory for me is nearly choking Fergal Costello at the final whistle in Tuam in 1999 and declaring at the top my lungs that Croker was awaiting us again. I also remember Keith Higgins doing an interview and having to be corrected when he wrongly estimated how many Connacht championships he had won. They have little value for someone like him in the present time; it’s an All-Ireland he craves, but he will cherish his Connacht glories when he hangs up his boots. I’d be sure of that. Any other county in Connacht would beg, borrow, or steal to be Connacht champions. For Mayo it’s no big deal any more, a drought would suddenly change the mindset. I’d be guessing only a handful of footballers still playing in the other Connacht counties have won the Nestor cup. I really think the only way to get the passion back for a provincial title is reverting to the old knockout system, when if you lose your season is over.

After getting to the ultimate stage of the All-Ireland in '96 and '97 we came a cropper against Galway in McHale Park on May 24 in 1998, and that was our season over. It took some adjusting not to have to go to county training for the entire summer. However the back door system was designed for instances like that, to give teams a second bite of the cherry, and to also give the so-called weaker counties a minimum of two games.

It's not going to be easy for Longford to bounce back

After the drubbing Longford took at the hands of Dublin would you really want another game? The Longford players must be so demoralised and must have found it difficult to attend training this week. I did mention a few weeks ago that their prize for beating Offaly was that ill-fated game last week, call it a bogey prize if you want. Offaly now find themselves in a better position than Longford as the scars of that hiding will live long with the players. I always have a look at bookmakers odds before games to see what they think may happen as they are rarely wide of the mark however they got it well wrong for the Dublin and Longford game. Dublin were priced at 1/200 to beat Longford but the handicap betting was for Dublin to start at -16 which they comfortably achieved and they were a handsome 11/8 to score over 27.5 points which was secured by the 50th minute. Dublin have won every game in their province by an average of 16 points over the last few years which makes very embarrassing statistics for the rest of the counties in Leinster. Rather than punishing Dublin for been successful the duty is surely on the other counties to catch up as it is with the others to catch Mayo in Connacht, the gap in Connacht is narrowing all the time. The only regret I have from my preseason predictor is that I didn’t pick Dean Rock to be championship top scorer.

Peader the poacher

I see Peader Gardiner was up to his old tricks of scoring last minute winning points for his clubs championship game against Aughamore. It was a great away win for Crossmolina who lined out without injured Ciaran McDonald and Cathal Carolan. By all accounts is was a proper feisty championship affair. Joe Keane’s military style discipline seems to be working well for the Deel Rovers. Who knows what they may achieve when they get all their players fit.

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