Why are Glenn Ryan and Andy McEntee like a pair of parrots with no teeth? (Answer at end of column.)
ildare and Meath’s recent managerial decisions don’t just matter to the counties involved but could be crucial for the game as a whole.
The Lilywhites and the Royals are two of football’s three great sleeping giants, with Cork the other one. You could perhaps add Derry who showed signs of wakefulness this year. Galway may not be sleeping but are definitely daydreaming, while Down appear to be in a coma.
Populous, well-resourced counties with proud traditions who were All-Ireland contenders just a decade ago, Meath and Kildare should be a lot better than they’ve been lately.
The championship needs them to be better. Proponents of the ill-fated Super 8s seemed to imagine Meath, Kildare and Cork teams which were much better than the actual sides produced by those counties.
In reality, the trio’s Super 8 foray produced nine defeats from nine games, underlining the lack of competitive balance which doomed the format. There weren’t eight teams super enough to justify it.
The Dublin-dominated 2018 and 2020 championships represented a competitive nadir for football. By contrast, this year’s pair of epic semi-finals showed the vital importance of strength in depth.
A really good championship requires as many teams as possible to be as good as possible. Hence the general importance of those Kildare and Meath appointments.
Ryan should have enormous local goodwill behind him. The only surprising thing about his appointment is how long it’s taken.
The Round Towers man wasn’t just the most inspirational figure on Mick O’Dwyer’s great Kildare teams, he also showed immense promise as a manager. Ryan guided Kildare to an All-Ireland under 21 final in 2008 before steering Longford to Division 3 and 4 league titles and a memorable championship win over Mayo.
The obvious candidate to replace Kieran McGeeney in 2015, he was passed over in favour of Cian O’Neill and subsequently lost out to Jack O’Connor.
Kildare’s decline has been precipitous with just one provincial final appearance in the noughties. That changed under O’Connor with a first Leinster decider appearance in four years and promotion to Division 1. An All-Ireland under 20 title in 2018 and Leinster minor titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016 suggest Ryan has promising material to work with.
Meath too have enjoyed a recent resurgence at underage level, winning three of the last four provincial minor crowns and this year’s All-Ireland, but their manager is in a very different position. McEntee looked doomed a week and a half ago when Meath’s County Board executive recommended his dismissal. But a subsequent county board meeting backed the manager.
That seemed fair enough. McEntee has improved the Royals since taking charge in 2016. Two years ago a return to the top flight for the first time in 13 years was followed by a surprise run to the Super 8s. This year there was another surprise as Meath ran Dublin close in the Leinster semi-final.
That performance was unexpected because last year’s Leinster final between the two sides ended in humiliating 21-point defeat for Meath. It epitomised the way all other Leinster teams have languished in Dublin’s shadow.
The crushing predictability of their provincial championship has contributed to Meath and Kildare’s decline in the same way frequent humiliating defeats by Kerry have sapped Cork’s morale.
This underachieving trio have much to gain should the second proposal to restructure the championship pass at next weekend’s Special Congress.
It deserves to. The brainchild of the Fixture Calendar Review Taskforce bears the signs of serious thought, hard work and creative intelligence, not least in the way it addresses common objections to previous restructuring plans.
In retaining the provincial championships, but as a competition taking the place occupied by the National League in the fixture calendar, it preserves traditional local rivalries.
The idea of running the early stages of the championships on a league basis, with every team guaranteed at least seven matches, addresses the current ridiculous anomaly whereby inter-county sides spend more time playing games that don’t matter than games which do.
Previous simplistic notions of a two-tier championship ignored the fact that there aren’t really two distinct levels at the moment. That’s why Tipperary and Cavan could win provincial titles last year and get relegated to Division 3 a few months later.
Proposal B permits just ten teams entry into the knockout stages of the championship, recognising that this is about the maximum number possible to keep it competitive. But every county has a chance to make those knockout stages because the winners of the bottom two divisions can enter play-offs for a place in the quarter-finals.
The team which finishes sixth in the top flight might seem hard done by, given that they won’t have such an opportunity. But why should a team which might have only won two of its seven games progress when a side which has won all its games, even if those are in Division 4, be prevented from doing so? Granting the Division 3 and 4 champions a shot is in the best democratic GAA tradition.
It’s good to see the Gaelic Players Association backing Proposal B to the hilt and appealing to delegates to follow their lead. Who knows better what the championship needs than those who actually play in it?
The fear is that conservatively minded delegates will either reject change altogether or compromise by backing another proposal which will merely bring in four eight-team provincial championships. That falls far short of the radical change required.
As the GPA point out, if Proposal B is defeated next Saturday, “We might not be presented with such a positive opportunity for change in the years to come.” Delegates need to be bold in the same way they were when opening Croke Park up to other sports back in 2005.
Maintaining the status quo seemed the easiest option back then too. But the GAA heeded the grassroots, backed brave and made the right decision. Delegates can do the same thing now.
This year’s semi-finals showed that at its best Gaelic football is a match for any sport. It is a great game which deserves a great championship. It deserves Proposal B.
But even such radical change will fall flat unless more counties join Tyrone, Mayo, Dublin and Kerry near the top. Galway, Donegal, Cork, Meath and Kildare all need to be there too.
That’s why Ryan and McEntee are like parrots with no teeth. They just have to succeed.
Fenway’s strategy is working with Tampa Bay Rays and Liverpool
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. At the start of the baseball season the Boston Red Sox were roundly berated for their failure to strengthen their squad. CBS Sport gave them a D for their unambitious signings and declared: “The Red Sox front office can talk all they want about returning to contention but actions speak louder than words.”
Indeed they do and last week’s action saw the Sox score a shock 3-1 series win over the Tampa Bay Rays to set up an American League Championship showdown against the Houston Astros. It may be that their baseball experience informs the Fenway Group’s approach to business at Liverpool, also criticised for a failure to spend big and also confounding the critics at the moment.
At both clubs Fenway’s big priority seems to be finding the right manager to make the very best of the available talent. At Liverpool, it’s Jurgen Klopp; at Boston, it’s Alex Cora, who this season returned to the club he steered to a 2018 World Series victory.
A further Premier League parallel may be suggested by the fate of the New York Yankees, defeated by their deadly rivals earlier in the play-offs.
Perpetually lashing out big money on the biggest names available the once dominant Yankees haven’t made a World Series in 12 years. Does that remind you of anyone?
Hunter’s heroics suggests a bright future for Ireland
Not many Irish sports stars have broken entirely new ground on the world stage. But that’s what Amy Hunter did on Monday when becoming the youngest player in cricket history to score a one day international century.
It was actually the Belfast star’s 16th birthday as she made an unbeaten 121, propelling Ireland to a victory that completed a 3-1 series win over home side Zimbabwe. Hunter, a product of the Instonians club, only made her international debut six days earlier.
That Gaby Lewis hit 263 runs to finish as player of the series and another 20-year-old Cara Murray finished as leading wicket taker suggests a bright future for a young Irish team who’ll try to make the World Cup for the first time since 2005 at next month’s qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe. Eleven of the 16 players are 24 or under.
The series victory was part of an incredible week for Dublin’s Delany family. Three days after Laura captained the women’s side to their first overseas one day series victory, her brother Gareth struck a match-winning 88, including eight sixes, for the men’s team which defeated Bangladesh in a T20 international in Abu Dhabi.
That was the last warm-up match before Ireland’s T20 World Cup campaign begins tomorrow match against Holland.