Monday, June 20, 2016
The media spent the final weeks of the National League bemoaning that those league games were the last interesting things scribes would have to write about until August. This is because that same media, possibly dazzled by propaganda from the GPA, considers the Championship a fossilized entity, a killing field in which “lesser” teams cannot possibly gain by being exposed to the mighty guns of the Division 1 Super Powers.
Up to a point, Lord Copper. Last week, Tipperary of Division 3 unhorsed mighty Cork of Division 1. On Saturday, Galway of Division 2 unhorsed Mayo of Division 1, not only in Mayo itself but with fifty-two of Galway’s best and brightest missing from the muster-roll.
These things should not be happening. Sports science and the great god of the age, money, tell us that a commoner may never gaze on a crown in the Championship any more.
So what happened on Saturday? Is it possible that the peculiar magic of this fossilized Championship, no longer fit for the modern athlete and fan, somehow conjured dream into reality once more? Could it be that helpless Galway, with their missing players and dressed only their lowly Division 2 motley, somehow raised themselves at the sight of the green and red and channeled the spirits of their forbears to make themselves, for that one crowded hour, bigger than they thought they could be?
Could it be that there is something inherent in the very Championship itself, in the warp and weft of its history and tradition, that means Galway can raise themselves against Mayo in a Connacht semi-final in a way that is impossible to imagine them doing against Monaghan, say, in a round 3 Champions League style tournament so much more fitting to modernity?
Who knows? But it does seem legitimate to at least raise the question.
And what of Mayo themselves? This isn’t Mayo’s first time getting ambushed by Galway in Castlebar. May 24th, 1998 is a date that still lives in infamy in the County Mayo. Did Mayo think that sports science and money and TV ads would protect them from piseog, éigse and oidhreacht peile? What can a millionaire American basketball coach writing a motivational book know of the feeling in a Galwayman’s gut when he sees the green and red banners flying so proudly and arrogantly high?
The day was Galway’s and rightly so. While they and Roscommon prepare for Connacht’s banner day, Mayo have to ask themselves what exactly happened. Did they have a bad day at the office, and will they now scorch a path of devastation through the qualifiers in the hurt and fury of their response?
Oisin McConville suggested in the Examiner on Saturday that it was time for mutinous Mayo players to put their money where their extraordinarily big mouths are and, as sure as night follows day, there will be more than one why-oh-why column in the Irish Independent this coming week roasting the Mayo panel for what they did to the previous management.
Yes. And yet, no.
The mutiny is misunderstood by the national media. The mutiny was not a cause; it was a symptom. The mutiny was the inevitable result of the Mayo County Board’s failure to deal with the end of James Horan’s time as manager, a failure that, based on Saturday’s evidence, has yet to be fixed.
The situation at the moment appears to be that the Board wants Pat and Noel but wants no truck with James. Pat and Noel are unacceptable to the players but there is no way between Hell and Bethlehem the Board want Horan back. The only thing either party seems to agree about is that neither of them wanted anything at all to do Kevin McStay and Liam McHale.
Hence, Stephen Rochford. Rochford has no small job to do in the coming two weeks to reassemble the green and red Humpty Dumpty. Mayo were red-rotten on Saturday and, as the man in charge, Rochford has to fix them. Rochford will be forgiven any step he takes, no matter how drastic, so long as Mayo win the All-Ireland as a result. Anything short of that and he’ll be tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail, of course. Galway have their tradition, and we have ours. Up Mayo.
Tuesday, June 07, 2016
One of the reasons that the hurling Championship has proved so difficult to reform is the strange place of the Munster Championship. One of the major arguments against proper reform of the hurling Championship is the “special place” that the Munster Championship holds in the Irish sports calendar. This is despite the fact that it’s now been ten years and counting since the Munster Champions went on to win the All-Ireland. There’s something wrong there somewhere.
What’s far worse is the peculiar situation of not knowing where a team stands after it wins or loses a game. In terms of positioning to win the All-Ireland, are Clare really any worse off since Waterford beat them on Sunday? Can anybody keep track of the losers of the Provincial championships? There are many back doors in hurling’s mansion, to the extent of its being a damnable job to keep track of who’s who until the semi-finals arrive in August. That doesn’t make for much of a Championship.
The paucity of counties that are able to compete for the Liam McCarthy Cup doesn’t help. We’re seeing greater and greater separation in football, but hurling has always been a game of haves and have-nots. Limerick, Clare, Waterford, Wexford, Offaly and Galway are all considered hurling counties despite not having more than thirty All-Irelands between them in over 125 years of trying.
One of the arguments for the retention of traditional football championship is the importance of the local rivalry. There aren’t enough teams playing hurling at the same level to have that rivalry. As such, in an effort to generate gate receipts and put some sort of gloss of competitiveness on the Championship, the vast majority of hurling counties are put through this out again, in again Lanigan’s Ball of a Championship before Kilkenny or Tipperary come along and box their ears for them, just like always.
Whatever slim chance (and slimmer it’s getting) there is of bringing back the old football Championship, there isn’t a snowball’s of the old hurling Championship returning. There just wouldn’t be enough games. But the current format is maddening, because teams are no further nor closer to the All-Ireland on the 31st of July than they were at Christmas.
So here’s the suggestion. We need more games, and we also need more clarity about who’s in the hunt and who’s a gone goose. So continue with the straight-knockout Championship but play each fixture as a best-of-three or best-of-five series.
The precedent is in American sports, where playoffs in baseball, ice hockey and basketball are all best-of series.
Under this sort of system, last Sunday would have been the first leg of a best-of-three between Clare and Waterford. If Waterford win again this coming Sunday, they move on and Clare are gone. If not, it’s mega-showdown for Game 3 in sunny Thurles in a fortnight. Good times.
The American sports play best-of-sevens, but they play three games a week. Midweek games would be just a little too jarring for the rhythm of the Championship and the summer isn’t long enough for best-of-fives played at the weekend only. As such best-of-three is certainly a good place to start.
If we had a best-of-series now, Game 2 next week between Clare and Waterford suddenly becomes huge, instead of Clare treading water and lesser counties into the ground for the next six weeks, and Waterford suffering long dark nights of the soul trying to decide if they really want another Munster title for all the good the other ones have done them in recent years.
Everybody thinks the Championship needs fireworks. Making the hurling Championship into best-of-threes with no backdoor would certainly strike a few sparks.