The GAA’s scheduling department seems to be asleep at the wheel. There were nine football championship matches last weekend and just three this weekend. Who is supposed to be monitoring this?
was under the impression that while the provincial councils were drawing up the fixtures there would be a guiding hand at central level to ensure a bit of uncommon sense and balance would prevail. But that mustn’t be the case because it’s a shambles.
This affects crowds, publicity and at a more important level, the idea of basic fair play. Many may not have noticed but after beating Offaly in the first round of the Leinster championship, Wexford had to play Dublin six days later. The fact that the match was six or 16 days later would not have made any difference to the result but Wexford were treated with total disrespect by such a short turnaround. It would not be expected of the big teams.
Similarly, Wicklow had to travel to Navan to play Meath one week after beating Laois, again that is not fair to players or management. Louth were in the same position having to play Kildare after their first round win over Carlow.
If some of the bigger counties got this fixture schedule a couple of months ago they would have told the provincial council to take a running jump. But in the case of Wicklow, Louth and Wexford they were probably reluctant to say anything in case those in power might tell them not to be so presumptuous about winning their first round match.
All three first round winners lost their games a week later. That in itself proves nothing, but no team can prepare properly for a big match like that in such a short time.
In the league, everyone has the same gap between games. In these cases the three Leinster winners were facing opponents who were fresh and well prepared. Why could the first round games not have been held a week earlier to allow two weeks preparation for the quarter-finals? It makes for poor planning and at face value appears to imply two things: That the first round matches don’t matter and that those smaller counties should be happy enough to play in the Tailteann Cup. Roscommon easily beat Sligo last Sunday and have another three weeks to prepare for the Connacht final.
Then there is the publicity aspect of it all. Every county and every player likes to see extended highlights of their game on television. With nine football matches on last weekend, and hurling as well, there was no time on The Sunday Game to show more than a few scores from some matches. I see that in person when a show of an hour and a half is trying to pack in more than a dozen matches.
The counties blame RTÉ. Instead, they should ask a few questions of the people who make the fixtures. The GAA should sponsor a Monday evening slot to show some of the action that cannot be fitted in on Sunday night. It is basic games promotion. And things will get a lot worse when the Tailteann Cup starts, while next year the manure will really hit the fan as more and more games are shoe-horned into a tighter window.
There is one really big match today which will get plenty of airtime — Cavan v Donegal — a repeat of the 2020 Ulster final. That was played on a cold November day and Cavan caused a major shock. There were no supporters present, but the Cavan roar at the finish carried all the way to Armagh. There was no joyous homecoming either, but supporters were allowed to drive past the cup in Breffni Park that evening, a bit like driving by the Pope and giving him a wave.
If it was an upset for Cavan to win then, it would be even more so now. Cavan were promoted from the bottom division, beating Tipperary in the final, but so far in this championship only two games have seen a team beating another from a higher division, Galway beating Mayo and Derry hammering Tyrone.
Bridging the gap from Division 4 to Division 1 seems a tall order. Yet Cavan are a bit better than their league position suggests and I expect them to be back in the second tier next year, where they should fit comfortably.
Donegal gave notice of intent against Armagh. It was not unexpected and Armagh just reinforced Donegal’s motivation with the carry-on over suspensions. When you do the crime, you do the time. Armagh would have been better off not appealing, they ended up with the worst of all worlds.
Over the last few years Donegal have been totally frustrating to watch and even though I strongly tipped them to beat Armagh, I was still very impressed with the performance. The big three were magnificent — Michael Murphy, Ryan McHugh and Paddy McBrearty — but so were others like Jason McGee, Peadar Mogan, Michael Langan, Shane O’Donnell and Brendan McCole. In this match McCole will probably mark the new Cavan whizz kid Paddy Lynch, who will feel the hot breath of a closer marker than in previous matches. So too will Gearóid McKiernan, who Cavan depend on for a lot of scores.
In fact, this match is all about a score, one that Donegal need to settle after Cavan tore them apart with some old-fashioned football, hard tackling and sheer bravery from the likes of Thomas Galligan in that Ulster final. Lightning is unlikely to strike twice.
In today’s only other game, another fourth division team is pitted against a Galway side who have been promoted to Division 1 and have already beaten Mayo. Despite that win I was not impressed at all with Galway and there is certainly an over reliance on their big three — Paul Conroy, Damien Comer and Shane Walsh.
One of the most enjoyable matches in the championship so far was between Leitrim and London in McGovern Park in Ruislip a few weeks ago. Leitrim won a dinger by four, scoring a goal with the last kick, but it did show that playing teams of the same standard against each other at the right time of year is good for players and spectators. We will leave that skeleton in the cupboard for now.
Leitrim will have Keith Beirne back after serving a one-match ban. After scoring 2-44 in the league he is a big addition. Yet no window dressing can camouflage the vast gulf in class here. Leitrim got a walloping from Mayo last year at this stage, but the margin will not be as big today. Hopefully Leitrim can get four goals in the first ten minutes and make a game of it, but an easy Galway win looks on the cards.