28 May 2022

OPINION - GAA's message is loud and clear, they just don't want counties like Laois in the hurling championship

OPINION - GAA's message is loud and clear, they just don't want county's like Laois in the hurling championship

Lee Cleere in action for Laois against Carlow. Pic: Alf Harvey.

Ambition, it seems, is a waste of time. Your worth to the GAA is not to be found in what you want to do, what you plan to do, or what you hope to do, it is in how much money they can make from you.

And if the answer is 'not a lot', then please leave, and maybe we'll see you every other year, if you're lucky.

The hurling championships didn't get reformed, or improved, or revamped on Saturday, they got optimised for monetisation.

What has happened here is that the GAA have looked at the last few years of All-Ireland finals. They have been exciting games with big crowds, and they made a lot of money. The only problem, of course, was there wasn't enough of them.

Loathe to miss an opportunity to mine every last cent from their games, this didn't sit well with anybody. There was money to be made off the hurling championship, but not in its current format. The bigger county's needed to play each other more, and the weaker counties needed to be gotten rid of.

County's like Laois, Carlow, Westmeath, Meath, Kerry and Antrim offer no tangible revenue stream for the GAA. They don't bring big enough crowds to the games, and not enough people will watch them on TV, so the best thing to do is pack them off into a hamster wheel of a competition, and that way you'll only have to see one of them every second year.

Making those counties competitive would cost money, and why spend money on them when you could be making money off the back of Kilkenny, Tipperary and Galway instead?

To sell this as a means to promote hurling is a ruse, when in fact it is nothing more than a plan to ring fence the game to the chosen few, the GAA's equivalent of Trump announcing his plans to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans. By doing that, they make more money. Simple.

So keen were they to do this, that they were happy enough to pass a ludicrous new championship structure. Just look at how ridiculous the rules surrounding promotion and relegation are, and spare a thought for Kerry here, who have been told in no uncertain terms that they should dispense with all ambition.

If Laois top Tier 2 they at least get promoted, no questions asked, to the Leinster SHC. If Kerry top the group, then Munster will send out one of their goons to give them a sound thrashing, and teach them a bit of manners.

Only in the GAA could you come up with a championship group where the rules for one team are different to the other five involved, as it is in Tier 2. Better still, there are now essentially three groups of teams competing to be involved in the knockout stages of the All-Ireland series, and a different set of rules apply to each group. Lewis Carroll couldn't have dreamed up this stuff.

So, with the Munster teams secure from a downward move, the teams in Leinster now have two jobs; try to qualify for a Leinster final, and make sure Offaly get relegated.

Offaly, of course, should by no means try to relegate a different Leinster team, as the prospect of Wexford or Dublin dropping down would undermine this new championship.

The death knell for this structure will, of course, be if one of the Munster county's do end up somehow getting relegated in place of Kerry, because the GAA couldn't have a scenario where Cork, for argument's sake, had to play the five other teams from their collection of hurling misfits.

Those in favour of this proposal will point to one glaring fact, which is that the top nine teams were always going to be the ones competing for the Liam McCarthy anyway, no matter what format the championship took.

This is true, of course, in the short term, but the effects of this move are long term. This format is a death knell to county's with ambition. Under the old format at least, county's like Laois had a run of games before going into Leinster, and it went some way to helping them compete on an even keel. It's how we could beat Offaly and run Galway close on a couple of occasions. That helping hand is gone.

Instead, we'll be told to top the group, earn our spot in Leinster, and if we're good enough we'll hold onto it. But the problem is that the bigger county's will now play more games among themselves, drawing more crowds and getting more exposure.

This allows them to bring in more revenue through sponsorship and advertising, and as they make more money for the GAA, it is their interests which will be considered first and foremost.

Meanwhile, Laois and the other Tier 2 counties are consigned to the backwaters of intercounty hurling. Selling sponsorship gets harder, because your profile is lower and the prospects don't look good. We're not making the GAA any money so they won't spend more than they need to. If we do get promoted, we have one year to bridge that vast chasm which already exists, and if we don't, then we get relegated, and the gap widens ever further.

Now imagine instead that Laois were included in the Leinster championship group. We'd struggle, for sure, but we'd have three years of guaranteed top level hurling. More exposure to that level gives the players more chance to learn what it takes, to get to the pitch of summer hurling with the big counties.

It's a tough way to learn, but our players play better matches, in front of bigger crowds, and feel like they are least part of competition which they have dreamed of playing in since they first put ash to palm.

This move is not intended to promote hurling, or move the game forward. It is intended to keep it exactly where it is. That's great, if you're from Tipperary, but a kick in the stomach if you're from Laois.

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