Monday, May 31, 2010

Is the Championship in Danger?

The great Keith Duggan took a thoughtful and sombre sideline cut in the Irish Times on Saturday. Reflecting on what he perceived as a strange lack of spark in the Championship so far, Duggan wondered if somehow, through oversight or accident or simple process of evolution, the magic of the Championship has disappeared and its very future is now in doubt.

One of the strange things about the Championship is how little we understand it, really. How little we talk about its essential nature. It has been with us throughout the years, existing independently to the passage of time, a thing greater than ourselves.

They suspended the civil war in Kerry so Stater and Diehard could unite in a cause greater than either, that of the green and gold. The Championship was pristine, a Platonic ideal that existed as an embodiment of an Ireland that was the best of ourselves. But we never analysed it o tried to understand it. We just took it for granted, and assumed that it would always be there.

The Championship was able to survive independent of history because there was no history in Ireland. The country was stagnant for half a century. The reasons why are open to debate (although Tom Garvin did a pretty good summing them up in his book Preventing the Future), but stagnant it was.

And then things took off in the mid 1990s, at a pace of change we couldn’t have imagined. A lot of things happened in the country that should not have happened, mostly to do with money and how it was spent. Gaelic games became awash with money for the first time ever as part of that process. The Championship was sucked down to our levcel. And the question facing the Championship now, and the very GAA itself, is how does it now react to the loss of money in the light of the crash.

The very existence of the Championship is a miracle. A miracle of idealism. Croaking about unfairness in the Championship doesn’t take into account that the unfairness of the Championship protects the weak. The attempt to make it the Championship more fair, the backdoor system, is now a failure on two counts. It has strengthened the strong and it’s actual purpose as a money-making racket will be exposed very badly this summer.

It’s unfair that someone like Declan Browne, say, will never win an All-Ireland medal because he comes from a weaker county. But a transfer system were introduced, would Tipperary even be able to field a team in the Championship? The Championship may be unfair, but that unfairness is what keeps people going in some counties. The fact that no matter how small the population is, they compete on the same plane as Dublin, Cork or Galway. Do you deny one man, or a whole county? Unfair is a good thing.

We don’t really understand the nature of the Championship. The introduction of the backdoor was proof of this, and other discussions about how to “improve” it would surely kill the thing off altogether. We ought to treat the Championship like the exotic hothouse flower it is, and make all efforts to tender it and keep it alive. Because if it does wither, a light will go out in our lives that can never be lit again.

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