GAA back door route is not fair to Tyrone (and Kerry)…

Mickey Harte’s just been on Morning Ireland bemoaning the fact that Tyrone and Kerry are now out of the All Ireland championship, and suggesting it’s not fair that as Ulster Champions Tyrone barely got to enjoy their win, when they were dropped out from winning the bigger prize.

Yet, Sean Moran writing in the Irish Times notes that the almost ten year old ‘back door route’, far from handicapping the stronger teams has exaggerated their dominance:

…the purpose of the new format has often been misunderstood. Stripped down, the qualifiers were intended to prevent players training rigorously for months and being guaranteed just one match all summer. It wasn’t meant to be some sort of handicap system to give a leg up to weaker counties.

But then again, it probably wasn’t meant to be a process that made the success of strong counties even more assured than even the GAA’s exclusivist history had managed over the decades. Perceptions haven’t been helped by the stark elitism of the All-Ireland roll of honour in the past decade. Just two counties, Kerry and Tyrone, have made off with the past seven championships – more than half of them through the qualifier series after losing in their respective provinces.

It doesn’t seem to assuage the unease that it’s perfectly valid that a competition should be designed in such a way to try to ensure the best team wins it. The feeling has developed that the qualifiers have been net contributors to the prevailing duopoly.

To be fair, ‘the noughties’ only look bad after the uncharacteristically open 1990s, when eight different teams won over the ten years. Could it be that the very amateur nature of the GAA precludes effective reform to create a more level playing field? Without a market in players for instance, the stronger counties can dominate the game in the way, historically, they always have.

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  • Alan Maskey

    Kerry has a relatively small population and they have dominated the code. If Sam spoke, he would have a Kerry accent is the old joke. The GAA have come up with a novel (Aussie inspired?) way of getting more bums on seats.
    A much more pervasive problem for the GAA is getting reactionary officials out of the way. They have succeeded in Klidare but are snookered in Cork.
    The strength of the GAA: its parochialism, is also its weakness.
    Hurling has different problems. One county only is organised and has the young fellas coming through.

  • Hogan

    The only thing this demonstrates is Harte’s ‘Alex Ferguson-esque’ ability to create a smokescreen dare the media focus on dodgier ground about the increasing age profile of his team.

    As a team that have won the All-Ireland more than once via the back door he doesn’t really expect us to take this nonsense seriously? does he?

  • Mick Fealty

    That was my thoughts exactly. Dooher’s a great footballer for his age, and how he’s kept his pace as long as he has I will never know. But I would think age and renewal are the two things pressing on Mickey’s mind more than the back door…

    And the problem of the senior/junior divide seems as deep now as it ever was.

  • In another space I have repeatedly made the point that the system needs tweaked – there should be an open draw qualifier system played off alongside the provincial championships. Last four in the qualifers play the provincial winners in the All-Ireland quarter-finals. The bonus for winning your province and making it to the last four of the qualifiers is a bye in the quarter-final and an automatic semi-final spot. But this is what happens when you mix commercial imperatives and amateur sports.

  • I didn’t hear Mr Harte complaining about the format of the championship up to now, especially two years ago when they came storming through the back door to mug Dublin and then progress to capture the All Ireland in style.

    The last weekend proved that there is nothing wrong with gaelic football if people just go out an play the damn game instead of tinkering about with rules, competition formats etc.

  • Alan Maskey

    There is no perfect solution. Getting out of Ulster is not easy but Munster and Connaught are different stories. The GAA are juggling a lot of balls. The provincial arguments centre on Munster hurling and Ulster football. Maybe the provincial titles will go the way of the Railway Cup.

  • Nordie Northsider

    I agree completely with Hogan. Also, it looks like sour grapes and Mickey does himself no favours with it. Contrast with former Kerry manager Mick O’Dwyer speaking on Miriam O’Callaghan’s simper-fest chat show on RTÉ on the night of Kerry’s defeat. Three or four times he said that it pained him to see Kerry go out but that Down were the better team and good luck to them.
    Take your oil Mickey, as we say in Derry (and we’ve had to take a lot of it). Alan Titley once wrote that the Prophecies of Colm Cille should have really contained a reference to Derry only ever winning one All-Ireland. You have to laugh.

  • Rhinestone Cowboy

    Harte, not Hart.

    While I don’t agree with Mickey on this one, I think it’s unfair to accuse him of “sour grapes” given that he’s advocated this position for a long time now.

  • armaghman

    In fairness, and coming from Armagh myself and being no big fan of Tyrone, Harte has been saying this for a long time (including when they weren’t winning Ulster titles and, in fariness, Armagh were) and it is certainly not a knee-jerk reaction to Saturday’s defeat or an attempt to deflect from any other issues.

    I’m sure he’s well aware of what went wrong and how to fix it but, equally, he’s entitled to make his remarks about the nature of the championship set-up and I think the point merits consideration in its own right.

  • armaghman – fair enough if he has been on the topic for a while but you know, it;s still bull. The system has been the way it is for a number of years now and people just have to accept that it has flaws and get on with it… and I’m from Sligo and think all the whinging there about the six day turnarouund is feeble.

  • Mick Fealty

    Or Donegal. I’ve seen entertaining teams since 92, but nothing to threaten like they did.

  • armaghman

    I’m not wholly convinced of the merits of his argument myself yet, to be fair, but to recognise that the system has flaws (as you say) then to say we have to accept it and get on with it….I dunno. Why should we just shrug our shoulders and accept it, really?

    At least knock it about a bit and try to fix the flaws if we accept they’re there.

    The turnaround thing is, of course, a different issue. If you’re getting a second bite at the cherry, I don’t think there can be too much complaint if that’s “only” after 6 days. As Enda McNulty explained the other day, it’s all about mindset:

  • There’s a place and a process for changing things if people feel they need changing but I’m in agreement with Enda McNulty – with good management and a proper mindset, none of these ‘issues’ would be ‘issues’. Tinkering around with the formats or the rules is just making excuses and then in time again that format will be the problem – not particularly for M Harte but for somebody. In Sligo’s case, there were flaws in that team that I and others identified at the time of their League final win against Antrim in April and that I hoped would “recognised and prioritised and that we don’t wait for defeat to think about doing so”. They didn’t and that is at the heart of why they lost the way they did against Down. We may be in violent agreement on the fundamental point

  • Mr Crowley

    Tyrone didn’t ‘mug’ Dublin, they demolished them and Mickey Harte made his first public comment about the unfairness of the rules regarding defeated provincial champions prior to that actual game.

    Tyrone should never have lost on Sunday and Mickey Harte was a significant part of the reason why they did. I think it’s time he passed the baton.

  • Ulick

    I don’t remember Mickey being too concerned when Armagh were lifting Anglo-Celts all round them only to get dumped out the next day after long lay-offs. In fact I seem to remember in 2005 Armagh beat Tyrone only to get dumped out by them in the semis – no whinging then Mickey?

  • Rory Carr

    The only thing unfair to Kerry in this is that they have to meet Down every now and again in championship games – it’s just not fair.

  • sammaguire

    Heard a good one about the “back door”.

    Tipperary were playing and winning a match in the latter stages of the (hurling!) Championship having got through by the qualifiers. The opposition supporters (must have been Provincial champions) were giving Tipperary terrible abuse slagging them over the “back door”.

    This was obviously getting up the nose of a Tipp fan who stood up and turned around to face the opposition fans and roared:

    “When you own the f*cking house you can go in any f*cking door you like!”

    I like the extra games the present system gives us but the system certainly does need tweaking as stated previously. In saying that Tyrone, Kerry, Ros & Meath cannot complain. The rules were the same for everyone before the Championship commenced.

  • Ardmhacha

    Why don’t they simply make the provincial championships a complete sideshow to the all-ireland.

    Have the All-Ireland as an open draw from the start, if your beat on day one your out, then you have your provincial championship to maybe make your summer worth while.

    That would certainly mean that the best team would win it each year.

  • sammaguire

    I like your idea for the reform of the Championship. The GAA would lose a fortune though if the 4 provincial winners made it to the last 4 of the qualifiers!

    Got me thinking!

    How about your open draw side of the Championship proceeding one more round to give us two All Ireland semi finalists? The other two being decided by playing off the four Provincial winners. If the same 2 teams qualify from each side of the competiton (would happen very rarely) then both proceed to the Final without a Semi Finals.

    Another model would be the open draw providing one All Ireland finalist. The Provincial title holders playing off to determine the other finalist. As soon as one of the Provincial title holders qualifies for the All Ireland Final that county would of course be dropped from the open draw side of the competition.

  • Charminator

    Yeah, in fairness to Mickey, this isn’t a new complaint from his end. He’s long argued that the ‘back door’ works an injustice on provincial champions.

  • At most the GAA would lose four matches from the championship in that scenario (although a full open draw provides four extra games regardless, so it wouldn’t be an overall loss of revenue). This is all by-the-by, if the GAA give Ulster back a q/final or s/final spot in the hurling championship, they can do whatever the hell they want with the football.

  • JimRoche

    I’d make the provincial championships a round robin competition with the four winners going to the All-Ireland semi finals. Everybody would get games and there would be no back door.

    In hurling there would only be Munster and Leinster (including Galway and Antrim) so the winners would go straight to the final.

  • Peter Fyfe

    Those calling for more games to fix the problem don’t seem to realise the pressure already on fixtures whether its clashes with county championships, duel players in both codes or even pressures on individual pitches. These amateur players also have jobs and lives to go home to.

    How does an open draw mean the best team always wins? A good team can still have an off day and get put out. Look at any knock-out tournament and you will see the same.

    Mickey Harte’s obsession with the mark rule during the NFL in his Irish news column was a lot more unsavoury than this point which he has made before. In the case of the mark rule he clearly used that column to try and influence the rule changes. It would have been nice to see some good kicking and fielding rewarded but I guess that wouldn’t have suited Tyrone’s style of play. I am never sure what is worse on a Friday between the second page or second last page.

    Last thing, why review the system after such a weekend? If we had saw four quarter finals of that quality at the world cup, Blatter would have been canonized already. Good luck to Down anyway.

  • Peter Fyfe

    Do you not think Antrim will now benefit in the long run having to qualify through Leinster? I was honoured to be in Croker for the win against the Dubs and even the week later when we saw there is still room for improvement. Giving that other than a few minutes at the end of the first half, it was a performance they could be proud of and build upon. In the long run it would be much better to see the underage teams going down there as well, that could even already be agreed, Im not checking now though. Watching them beat the Dubs in the qualifiers was a lot more welcome than getting hammered by Limerick or Tipp or whoever else we met in the semis when I was a young boy. I was only 4 in ’89 so I don’t have any good memories of that.

  • Cathal

    I think you’ve been swayed too much by the RTE pundits who constantly talk about the ‘ageing’ Tyrone team. Dooher is 35 yet he is still the fittest player on the panel, evidenced by the fact he was the last player standing when the team recently did a ‘bleep test’ during training. This is more than likely his last year but his age belies his fitness. McMenamin is 32. The rest of the panel are 30 or below. Traditionally players would have been viewed as coming to the end of the road approaching 30 but training methods have changed over the past 10 years, a greater level of professionalism could see players continuing their careers for longer. Also I don’t think you’ve taken into account the success of the minor team this year and the continued progress of a number of Tyrone schools in competitions such as the McRory Cup. Dooher, Jordan, McCullagh and Gormley may pack it in this year but there is still healthy options waiting in the wings.

  • Cathal

    Selective hearing I believe. In his interview after the game Mickey not only gave great credit to Dublin and bemoaned his own team’s finishing, but also pointed out that his views on the structure of the back door system were not reactionary or sour grapes, anyone who has read his Irish News column will note this is the case.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    The provincial system itself needs to get the boot – it belongs to another era when travel wasn’t that easy. Bring in some kind of Champions League / H Cup format and cut out this provincial / back door bolloxology.

  • Cathal,

    I don’t doubt that point that you make about Dooher and / or the point that training methods have changed… but the country player in his 30s is a very rare species. Usually well blown out by then.

  • Underage teams in Leinster, yes, that makes sense. At senior level, I’d still rather see an Ulster team qualify from the Ulster SHC. Antrim put up a few good performances in the semi-finals in the 1980s and 1990s (we should have beat Kilkenny in 1991). That used to be incentive enough to get players up for the big occasion (and went hand-in-hand with better league performances as well). I’m about ten years older than you so I only remember a year or two fo Division II hurling before 1988. For a lot of my teens and early twenties we were a Division I team.
    The reason the hurling format was changed was that the powers-that-be believed that, since Cork, Tipp and Kilkenny dropped off in the mid-1990s, standards had fallen too far (promoting hurling was never top of the agenda). They made, and are making, a complete mockery of promoting hurling in Ulster. It’s the only province that has found a way to get full involvement in its SHC, yet no-one qualifies for the All-Ireland q/final etc. But then again (if you followed the ‘Did Edward Carson the hurley player hurl?’ blog the other day) in 1884/5 the GAA started out by ditching the variant of hurling played on the north and west coast in favour of the one played on the big landed estates in south Leinster and east Munster.

  • Jean Meslier

    When Down defeated Tyrone two years ago in Pairc Esler it only inspired the Red Hand towards another Sam Maguire. So IMO the present system is swings and roundabouts.

    With regards to Ulster I believe none of the nine managers would refuse a chance to lift the Anglo-Celt.

    This year we were beaten by Tyrone, but fought a tough back door campaign mostly away from home. I believe it really helped us forge a winning formula as shown by the continually improving results which culminated in our victory over the other Kingdom. Ok, so four teams emerge out of the playoffs with a winning sequence but this can be tempered by suspension, injury and tiredness as they go up against one of the Provincial winners.

    This years quarter-finals may have been a blip or just maybe Dublin have at last learnt the lesson of – hard graft actually works.

    Kildare’s style of never say die plus Geezer’s northern backbone may be the new cream coming to the top.

    Cork were the pre-Championship favourites so surely no eyebrow raising here either.

    Final reference goes to my own red & black.
    There have been no references to “puke football” levelled at wee James’ door by the southern pundits.

    Perhaps a new dawn awaits.

  • redhugh78

    Was that the year Tyrone really won the Ulster Championship?

  • redhugh78

    Exactly, Harte has been making the point for a while that the provincial champs are the only teams not to get a second chance, it can’t be sour grapes because like Harte says, it’s not solely a Tyrone Issue it affects everyone.

  • redhugh78

    ‘There have been no references to “puke football” levelled at wee James’ door by the southern pundits.

    Perhaps a new dawn awaits.’

    Perhaps,Jean that might have something to do with the fact they don’t see Down as serious contenders for the all-Ireland.

  • redhugh78

    Did you not listen to Harte after the game, he congratulated Dublin and as always was magnanimous in defeat. The point he is making is not a Tyrone issue it effects every provincial winner and ironically effected Dublin most over their many leinster wins.

  • Cathal

    I know what you’re saying Padraig but I still think it’s a generational issue. The growth of this group of player has coincided with the rise in more advanced methods of training. I think many of these players can be the first generation to take advantage of that having been managed well throughout their entire career. Another factor that has to be considered though is, as players get older their commitments outside of the game become more challenging (work, children etc) so maybe everything i’m trying to say will be made completely redundant anway 🙂

  • Ballycastle Gael

    If the four provincial champions had ended up in the Semi-Finals we would be saying that the qualifiers don’t work.

    Neither Kerry nor Tyrone were beaten by the system, Micky Harte and Jack O’Connor both knew that.

  • Jean Meslier

    There are only four counties who can win the All-Ireland this year – we are definately one of them.

    Just ask Jack O’Connor.

  • Alan Maskey
  • Fred Flintstone

    It would have been a “Cat flap” had Kilkenny come through the back door.

  • Alan Maskey

    Up Down or Up the rebels (sic)?

  • lamhdearg

    up Down up the Ulstermen

  • Alan Maskey

    The Serbs are with Down? So where does that put Munster? With the Croats?