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OPINION: Plan B isn’t perfect but it’s a step in the right direction

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The ‘league as championship’ model has its flaws but it must be passed at Congress nevertheless, writes Adam Moynihan

As I was weighing up the rights and wrongs of the ongoing football championship debate, a quote by the American political columnist George Will came to mind. I have no idea who the man is if I’m being perfectly honest. The politics of Kerry football keep me busy enough without concerning myself with Capitol Hill.

But I happened upon this line of his once and for some reason it stuck with me. “The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement.”

‘Perfect’ is always the goal but sometimes ‘better’ is good enough.

Plan B is certainly not perfect. Far from it. In fact, I would describe it as a pretty poorly thought-out proposal. My biggest concern is the fact that the Division 3 and 4 winners (the 17th and 25th ranked teams in the football pyramid) will participate in the All-Ireland series, while the 6th, 7th and 8th teams will not. The 12th to 16th placed teams will also be eliminated without playing a single knockout championship game.

Sport is supposed to be a meritocracy. It’s hard to justify granting the 25th best team in the country a shot at the All-Ireland while the 6th best team are left behind. Frankly, it smacks of the GAA pandering to the weaker counties in a fairly condescending way. They are effectively saying, “here you go, you can still win Sam”. Before muttering, “good luck against Dublin” once they’re safely out of earshot.

If Proposal B does get the go ahead, this is one crease that needs to be ironed out.

As I’ve said before in this column, I also don’t believe that two tiers are enough. There will still be mismatches between the strongest and weakest teams in the All-Ireland Championship and the strongest and weakest teams in the Tailteann Cup.

But the bottom line for me as a fan and a journalist, and I truly hope it will be the bottom line for at least 60% of voters at Saturday’s Congress, is that Plan B is an improvement. It’s better than what we have currently, and it’s a lot better than the other proposal on the table.

SIMILAR LEVEL

Plan B will give teams more championship matches against opposition who are operating at a similar level as them. Kerry beating Tipperary by 15 points does nothing for the development of Kerry or Tipperary football. In order to grow, Kerry need to be playing against teams who can beat them, and Tipperary need to be playing against teams whom they can beat. (And in order to enjoy the fare, spectators and television viewers need to see matches that are not foregone conclusions.)

In the early days of the two-tier debate, some dissenting voices from the traditionally less successful teams complained that they could no longer win the Sam Maguire if they were “demoted” to a ‘B’ championship. (Which is probably why the Division 3 and Division 4 winners are getting a golden ticket to take part in the preliminary quarter-finals of the ‘A’ championship.) Leaving aside the fact that some of these teams have won exactly none of the 134 previous iterations of the tournament, this attitude is patently self-defeating.

Playing in the Tailteann Cup (or, preferably, a third-tier championship) would actually greatly increase their chances of lifting Sam in the medium-to-longer term. Lining out against teams of a similar standing would allow them to put a run together, and so build momentum, and so build confidence. This is how the weak teams develop. Not by getting tanked by an All-Ireland contender on an annual basis.

Who’s to say that a Division 4 team like Wicklow can’t steadily build by getting good results over a number of years, win the Tailteann Cup, and eventually find their footing at senior level? It might take a decade. It might take two or three of them. But isn’t ‘some day’ better than ‘never’?

Look at a club like Kenmare Shamrocks. Ten years ago they were playing junior football but by graduating on merit through the Kerry Club Championship system, they are now a major force at senior level. Last weekend they competed in their second successive senior club final. Would they be where they are now if Kerry football wasn’t structured the way it is? I would say probably not. Success breeds success. If they were getting tarred by Dr Crokes in an “All-Kerry” championship in 2011, they’d probably still be getting tarred by Dr Crokes in 2021. They earned their right to sit at the top table, and the journey has made them what they are.

Another criticism of Plan B is that it will downgrade the importance of the provincial championships. For what it’s worth, my personal response to that is fairly straightforward: good.

KERRY TEAM

As for the Kerry team, Plan B works for them too. The players are in favour of it. A poll on my personal Twitter account suggests that over 87% of Kerry supporters are in favour of it.

However, the Kerry delegation heading to HQ are apparently undecided and waiting to have their arms twisted on the day. It’s a little surprising that they haven’t yet made their minds up – it’s not like there hasn’t already been enough public debate on the issue – but we must reserve judgment until they make their final call. As long as they arrive at the right decision, that’s all that matters.

The ill-conceived Plan A (four provincial groups of eight plus knockout) appears to be a complete non-runner for Kerry and for most counties, which is a relief because this motion comes directly before Plan B on the agenda. If Plan A were to get the necessary 60% majority, the arguments for and against Plan B wouldn’t even be heard.

TIDE

Cork, Tipperary, Clare, Carlow, Louth, Wexford, Meath, Offaly, Kildare, Westmeath, Longford, Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo and Down have confirmed that they will be backing Plan B.

The rest of Ulster are expected to vote against the motion, along with Galway and Mayo.

On Wednesday, GAA President Larry McCarthy and Director General Tom Ryan threw their considerable weight behind the ‘league as championship’ model. McCarthy urged delegates to be “bold” and go for the more radical proposal. I don’t even think it takes boldness to opt for Plan B. All it takes is a little bit of common sense.

After years of debate, the tide appears to have turned the right way for those who seek progress. That being said, this is the GAA. There is bound to be resistance in certain quarters - a desire to keep to the status quo. These traditionalists, and those with genuine reservations, will point to how imperfect Plan B is, and they’re not wrong. Plan B isn’t perfect. It’s just better.

Isn’t that enough?

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It’s tip-off time for new-look Lakers

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National League Division 1

Scotts Lakers v Limerick Sport Eagles

Saturday at 7.30pm

Killarney Sports & Leisure Centre

The 2022/23 National League tips off on Saturday evening and the Scotts Lakers will be hoping to get their campaign off to a flyer at home to the Limerick Sport Eagles.

The Lakers narrowly missed out on a playoff berth last time around, mainly due to a disappointing start to the season. Playing their first four home games at alternative venues probably didn’t help; the Killarney Sports & Leisure Centre was being used as a makeshift vaccination centre at the time. That’s all ancient history now, thankfully.

With that in mind, a fast start will be a priority, beginning with the visit of the Eagles this weekend.

ROSTER

It’s always difficult to tell until at least a few matches have been played but head coach Jarlath Lee appears to have made some good moves during the off-season.

Godwin Boahen will be missed but Dutch point guard Esebio Strijdhaftig has come in as a replacement, and Ukrainian big man Dmytro Berozkin – all 6’10” of him – has also come on board.

American shooter Eric Cooper Jr’s time here was brief; he has moved on already with Indiana native Jack Ferguson filling his shoes. Just like former laker Seán O’Brien, Ferguson played college ball with Colgate University.

The Lakers have retained the services of Portuguese player Rui Saravia, a skilled passer who has settled in nicely.

Just as essential as the imports are the local players who make up the majority of the squad. Mark O’Shea and Paul Clarke are important figures in the squad, although their involvement is likely to be curtailed by football commitments for the time being.

Youngsters Jamie O’Sullivan, Senan O’Leary and David Gleeson could well see more game time this season after exhibiting great promise in 2021/22, and other St Paul’s graduates like Mark Sheahan, Jack O’Sullivan and Eoin Carroll will also play their part.

A player to keep a close eye on is Ronan Collins, a Gneeveguilla native who has represented Ireland with distinction at underage level.

The club will be hoping for a healthy turnout for their season opener.

Meanwhile, the Lakers’ crosstown rivals the Killarney Cougars have an away fixture to get things started. They take on SETU Carlow (formerly IT Carlow) at the Barrow Centre on Saturday evening.

WOMEN’S LEAGUE

The St Paul’s women’s team (who are back in the National League for the first time since 2012) are also ready for their opening match of the new campaign. They travel to Kilkenny to take on the Marble City Hawks on Saturday at 7pm.

The team is managed by well-known local coach James Fleming and will be backboned by Killarney players like Lynn Jones, Rheanne O’Shea, Cassandra Buckley and current Ireland U16 international Leah McMahon.

Canadian Sophia Paska (formerly of the Limerick Celtics) and American Yuleska Ramirez Tejeda (ex-Limerick Sport Huskies) will add some recent league experience to the squad.

Paul’s first home game of the 2022/23 season will come next Saturday, October 8 against the Celtics.

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Adam Moynihan: Culture of lawlessness is partly to blame for GAA violence

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Why are so many GAA matches turning violent and/or abusive to the point that they need to be abandoned?

In Kerry, two underage fixtures had to be called off this past month alone. One, an U11 hurling game in which scores weren’t even being kept, was ended prematurely by the referee who was apparently on the receiving end of persistent verbal abuse. Another, an U15 football match in Kilcummin, came to a halt after a Cordal mentor was allegedly physically assaulted. The man in question ended up in hospital.

The spate of violence has not been confined to Kerry. Far from it. Matches in Roscommon, Wexford and Mayo have also been blighted by attacks on match officials. And some referees are rightly saying, “no more”. After a ref was attacked at a minor game in Roscommon last month, referees across the county briefly went on strike in solidarity.

If GAA officials are not concerned about the same thing happening again, quite conceivably on a wider scale, they should be.

Where does it all come from, this abuse and this violence? Why is it so prevalent in Gaelic games?

While it’s true that there is invariably a negative public reaction to instances of violence at GAA matches, I actually think a significant percentage of stakeholders are too accepting of it as a phenomenon.

Take the Armagh-Galway incident from this past summer for example. When Armagh sub Tiernan Kelly waded into a melee and gouged Damien Comer’s eye, the video footage enraged the vast majority of people who saw it. Kelly was widely condemned for his actions, even by outsiders like media personalities and politicians.

But then came the counter-reaction from within GAA circles. They said that Kelly was being vilified. The response was over the top. He was a good guy who simply made a mistake. These things happen.

As a GAA lover I personally can’t stand it when people who don’t follow the sport weigh in on these issues (politicians especially) but, for me, most of what was initially said about Kelly was justified. Sticking your finger in someone’s eye doesn’t just happen. It’s a despicable act of violence. In the end he got a six-month ban, meaning he misses a grand total of zero intercounty matches. Does that punishment fit the crime?

Surely a stronger message needs to be issued that people who engage in violence are not welcome.

When it comes to anyone entering the field of play – be they a supporter, mentor or some kind of hanger-on – and physically assaulting a referee or a player or another coach, they must be dealt with in the strongest possible terms. I’m talking about lifetime bans.

As a further deterrent, clubs and teams who fail to control their members should be punished appropriately. This should include expulsion from competitions for repeat offenders. As long as violent individuals are getting away lightly thanks to disciplinary action that doesn’t go far enough, these things will continue to happen.

GAA rule-makers have to get serious about the scourge of violence before referees pull the plug. Or before someone gets severely injured. Or worse.

I can’t help but feel as though our broadly lax attitude towards the laws of the game is a significant factor also. I’ve written this sentence on numerous occasions before so you may be sick of reading it, but I’ll stop saying it when it stops being true: so many rules in the GAA are so poorly enforced, you wonder why they bothered writing them down in the first place.

You have to hop or solo after four steps, but you can get away with seven or eight. You have to wear a gumshield, but you can tuck it into your sock. You have to be 13 metres away from the referee when he throws in a hop ball, but two metres will do. Managers have to stay off the pitch, but five yards over the line is grand. You have to make a clear striking motion when executing a handpass in hurling, but you can throw it too.

Whatever suits.

There is a culture of lawlessness in Gaelic football and hurling that I don’t think exists in any other sports of their kind.

It makes the games impossible to referee “properly” because every participant and observer has their own interpretation of what’s allowed. The referee can’t be right in everyone’s eyes if the rules have multiple nebulous interpretations.

So, with that in mind, should we be surprised that referees are getting it from all angles? Is it any wonder that people who should never even dream of entering the field of play feel as though they can?

Handing down proper punishments for violent attacks is really important but we must also have far more respect for the rules on a wider scale. No more half measures.

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