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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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Relegation battle has town divided

By Sean Moriarty This is bigger than the county final itself – with the main prize on offer being bragging rights in the town. After an unprecedented run of events during this year’s Kerry Senior Football championship Killarney’s two biggest clubs, Dr Crokes and Killarney Legion are set to face off in a relegation battle […]

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By Sean Moriarty

This is bigger than the county final itself – with the main prize on offer being bragging rights in the town.

After an unprecedented run of events during this year’s Kerry Senior Football championship Killarney’s two biggest clubs, Dr Crokes and Killarney Legion are set to face off in a relegation battle that is sure to divide the town.

In sporting terms, the outcome of the big game, set for December 5, is simple enough. The winner stays in the Senior Championship next season and the losers will have to play in the Intermediate Championship.

Fans of the black and amber or the green and white face an anxious week. Winning the county title is one thing – consigning your cross town rivals to second division football in football is altogether a bigger prize.

Senior officials from both clubs are being very guarded on a potential outcome as both sides know the significance of this play off.

“It is a pity that two Killarney clubs, with a long tradition of playing football in the top tier, find themselves in the position of having to play off to avoid relegation,” Matt O’Neill, Cathaoirleach of Dr Crokes, told the Killarney Advertiser.

“Both teams will fight tooth and nail to stay in the senior ranks. I am confident that on Sunday week our lads will do themselves and the club proud, as always, and give their all in the quest to keep the black and amber to the fore.”

Crokes are based off the Lewis Road with Legion a short distance away on the other side of the bypass.

“Everyone has an opinion on this,” Legion PRO, Elaine O’Donoghue, told the Killarney Advertiser. “Both sides will be nervous – may the best team win. There are a lot of questions, are the Crokes suffering after defeat to Kerins O’Rahillys [in the semi-final]? Are our lads suffering after losing to St Brendan’s for the third year in a row?”

Every football fan will be keeping a close eye on next weekend’s Intermediate County Final too which takes place on December 4.

The winners of the match between Beaufort and Tralee side Na Gael will be automatically promoted to replace the losers of the Killarney play-off in the Senior Championship next season.

Should Beaufort prevail, a (relatively) local team could replace a town team in the top flight.

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68% of fans say penalty shootouts ‘not right’ for Gaelic football

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by Adam Moynihan

Local Gaelic football supporters are largely against the practice of deciding matches with penalty shootouts, a poll carried out by the Killarney Advertiser can reveal.

Over two-thirds (68%) of those surveyed said they don’t think that penalties are “right” for the GAA with the remaining 32% standing on the other side of the fence.

Traditionally exclusive to the game of soccer, penalty shootouts were first introduced to Kerry GAA competitions in 2020 as a method of settling fixtures “on the day”. This was deemed necessary as there was less time for replays due to the profound effect the coronavirus pandemic had on last year’s sporting calendar.

A number of high-profile Kerry club matches have gone to penalties since they were introduced, including last season’s County League final between Austin Stacks and Rathmore, last month’s Kerry SFC Round 1 match between Legion and Spa, and Saturday’s county semi-final between Stacks and St Brendan’s.

Stacks emerged victorious in that televised last four clash as former Kerry player Kieran Donaghy scored the winning kick to send the Tralee club through to the final.

Before penalty shootouts became the norm, drawn GAA matches either went to a replay or to extra-time and then a replay if necessary.

Sorting a match out on the day is now commonplace, although some observers have voiced concerns about introducing what is effectively a soccer exercise to Gaelic games. When asked for their thoughts on penalties, a number of respondents to our survey made the same or similar observations.

“Penalties do not encapsulate the basic skills of Gaelic football,” one reader said. “Kicking from the hand is the key fundamental skill of the sport so that seems a more fair and apt way to decide a game.”

Another fan commented: “Penalties are for soccer. Marks are for Aussie Rules. Can we come up with anything ourselves?”

On the other hand, some respondents said that penalties were “fine” and a few suggested that they be used for any game bar a final.

Kerry GAA have confirmed that the upcoming county final and relegation playoff will go to replays if the sides are level after 60 minutes. However, next Saturday’s intermediate final between Na Gaeil and Beaufort will go all the way to penalties if required.

OTHER OPTIONS

When asked to select the “best” alternative method of deciding a Gaelic football match from a list provided by the Killarney Advertiser, over 40% of the people surveyed opted for a free-taking shootout from 35 metres.

‘More extra-time’ was the second most popular option with 23.61% of the vote.

An additional period of ‘next score wins’ was next up on just under 20%, with a 1 v 1 ice-hockey-style shootout, which would see the kicker carry the ball in hand before shooting for goal, was selected by 16% of supporters.

Whether or not the GAA are open to changing things up is uncertain. For the time-being at least, it appears as though football matches will continue to be decided using this controversial method.

Killarney Advertiser Penalty Shootout Poll (carried out online on November 23/24)

Are penalty shootouts right for Gaelic football?

Yes 31.94%

No 68.06%

If a replay is not possible, which of these alternative methods of settling a match is best:

Free-taking shootout from 35 metres 40.28%​

More extra time 23.61%

Next score wins 19.44%

1 v 1 ice-hockey-style shootout (ball in hand) 16.67%

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