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.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty