In the light of some recent heavy defeats in the football championship for counties outside the “elite” the GAA world has gone into meltdown. Football is dying. Football is ruined. Weaker counties have no chance. How can we compete with the big guns? The sky has fallen in on football and the bigger boys have taken the ball and won’t let anyone play.
This frankly is bullshit. The whole way through the history of the GAA SFC there has been inequality and teams rising and teams falling away.
Between 1970 and 1990, immediately prior to the Northern Invasion of ’91-94, there was twenty-one editions of the race for Sam. In just one of those twenty-one years, 1973, did a team from Connacht or Ulster beat a team from Munster or Leinster. On that occasion Connacht champions Galway beat the great three-in-row seeking Offaly team 0-16 to 2-8. The Tribesmen were subsequently beaten by Cork in the final.
Other than that the only time a team from Connacht or Ulster got to a final was every third year when they squared off against each other in the championship. Including the 1973 decider in the eight finals that Connacht/Ulster teams reached in that period they were defeated by an average of just over five points.
In the midst of this period was the supposedly greatest era ever for football with the fabled Dublin-Kerry rivalry. It’s looked back on with great fondness by RTÉ and those that took part in the games. Yet we never hear of the fact that there were fourteen counties in Connacht and Ulster who didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning back then. It was just the way things were. Eventually though the tide turned. Down, Donegal, Derry, Tyrone, Mayo and Galway all managed to break through and reach finals between 1991 and 1998. They simply got on with it and worked hard and these teams got their rewards.
People are lamenting that there are only five or six teams capable of winning the All Ireland or provincial crowns. Well that was the case back in the 70’s and for most of the 80’s as well. Counties rose, counties fell. Offaly came and went and came again. Meath rose, Cork fought back from the dominance of Kerry. Teams changed, fortunes changed. It’s always been the case. Mayo didn’t win a Connacht title between 1969 and 1981. In 1993 they were walloped 5-15 to 0-10 in an All Ireland semi-final yet three years later they came within the bounce of a ball of winning Sam.
Three years ago Mayo lost to Longford and Sligo. Three years ago Donegal were almost a laughing stock with no prospects. What changed though was shrewd managerial appointments. Mayo picked the right man for the job. Donegal finally gave the job to the messiah. Meath picked the right man in Sean Boylan all those years ago, ditto Cork with Billy Morgan and before him Kerry with Micko. Pick the right manager, support him and a county can do anything. Between 2004 and 2007 Kildare were a mess, at a very low ebb but they picked the right man in Kieran McGeeney and backed him to the hilt. Would you have said in 2007 that Kildare would be challenging for an All Ireland two years later? No chance, but it happened. It’s why Offaly look to have steadied the ship with the appointment of Emmet McDonnell. He’s a shrewd manager and is getting the Faithful moving in the right direction. When the right man with the right ideas comes in its amazing how quickly everything else follows. Players get on board when they see a good manager involved. Look at Westmeath under the late Paid O She, Laois under Micko, Leitrim under John O ‘Mahoney, Wexford under Jason Ryan Clare under John Maughan. Counties where it would be said “They don’t have the players”, yet all achieved historic feats under the right managers.
“It’s only the elite though , the top division teams that can win anything now” is the cry. Well bar the obvious issue with the fact that the league is called pointless on one hand and on the other we’re told only teams at the top of the league can win an All Ireland, why don’t the so called lesser teams strive to claim a place in Division One? Make the league their priority, get promotion, aim to stay in the top flight, get regular games against the best. That is the way to press on. That is the way to improve counties.
It’s not easy to win an All Ireland but then again it never was. Nothing was ever won easily but with hard work and the right man at the helm any county can push on and create history. The counties at the top now weren’t always there and might not be again in the future, but that’s football, that’s sport and that’s why we keep coming back year after year.