IN sport, you are always going to have the David and Goliath stories.
What attracts many of us to tune in to, attend and follow sporting events with genuine interest is the notion that maybe – just maybe – there is a chance the underdog could cause an upset.
Most of the time, the bookmakers call it right, but the rare occasions when the little guy triumphs are the moments that live longer in the memory.
Take Japan’s win over South Africa in the Rugby World Cup last year, for example. Most sports fans will view that game, which made headlines worldwide, as the most memorable one of the tournament.
Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland are travelling to France for the European Championships this summer with goals no greater than to get out of their respective groups.
They have absolutely no intention of winning the tournament, but they’ll give it a lash and may even provide some priceless memories along the way.
We’re all familiar with Ray Houghton in Euro ’88 and again in ’94, not to mention Italia ’90 in between. Jack Charlton’s side weren’t even close to winning those tournaments, but they still left their mark.
“If you look at any other sport, that’s just the way it is,” said former Armagh forward Oisín McConville when asked for his opinion on the GAA’s motion to introduce an All-Ireland ‘B’ Football Championship next year.
“There are some very, very strong teams and there are weaker teams, but everybody deserves a crack. Look at the FA Cup, everyone deserves one crack at the big boys.”
To recap, the proposal from the GAA’s Central Council is designed to create more competitive games throughout the summer and would see Division 4 teams omitted from the ‘back door’ system, unless they reach their respective provincial final.
Division 4 teams, i.e. London, who don’t reach their provincial final will be pitted together in a straight knockout format, with the winner guaranteed a spot in the following year’s qualifiers.
From a GAA perspective, upsets are perhaps less frequent than other sports – but they still happen.
Antrim, one of the eight Division 4 teams who could make up the proposed tournament, beat Division 2 side Laois in their own back yard last year, while Wexford beat Down in the qualifiers.
So for the GAA to effectively rule most Division 4 teams out of the equation could be taken as an insult in some quarters. Anyone can leave their mark on any given day.
Unlike most other Division 4 managers, new London boss Ciaran Deely hasn’t exactly slammed the proposal, but he insists there needs to be greater enticements in order to make such a tournament appealing.
He told The Irish Post: “If there is to be a ‘B’ Championship they need to have a really good incentive for it, so that the team who wins it progresses to an advanced stage [of the All-Ireland], or gets some really good funding so that they can develop their facilities to build on the success.
“We’d also want assurances that the latter stages or at least the final takes place in Croke Park, to give the lads who wouldn’t otherwise have much of an opportunity to play there a chance to perform in front of a relatively sizeable crowd.”
Such rewards may offer extra appeal to the players and county boards involved, but will it convince the fans to turn up? It’s uncertain, and there are concerns other than fan and player interest – sponsorship.
County boards rely so heavily on advertising investments from businesses with an interest in GAA. By expelling the Division 4 also-rans, the GAA would instantly make those counties less appealing to potential investors.
Mayo coming to Ruislip in this year’s Championship is a big deal for London GAA; it’s a massive commercial opportunity as one of the best teams in Ireland will be in town.
Defeat is probable, yet there’s always the chance of another relatively good commercial opportunity in the qualifiers. Take that chance away in 2017 and beyond, and sponsors may not hang around for what would effectively be a re-run of the National League Division 4 in knock-out form.
Besides, this has been tried and tested with the Tommy Murphy Cup, which soon faded after a positive start. This ‘new’ proposal is by no means radical; it’s an underwhelming and, at worst, lazy idea.
Other motions can be put forward at the Annual Congress in Carlow next month, but this is the one proposed by Central Council, so it is in a strong position. However, it still needs a majority vote of two thirds, and so far the motion seems to have gathered very little support.
Carlow manager Turlough O’Brien has not minced his words when asked for his opinion.
“It’s discriminatory,” he said. “Why are Division 4 teams being side-tracked like this? We’re in the GAA over 100 years and have always been part of the race for the All-Ireland.
“We might not have been very successful but you always have the dream that one day you might get a couple of victories and those days are as important to us in Carlow as All-Irelands are to Kerry or Dublin.”
It might read like a withered old cliché, but it really is the taking part that counts. Isolating the bottom eight teams so they can fight it out for one spot in the following year’s qualifiers is not in the spirit of the game.
Whilst a re-form is perhaps necessary, this would not be a welcome way to go.
Repeating the heroics of reaching the 2013 Connacht final is a tall order for London. Repeating it every year just to be in the qualifiers is inconceivable.