Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Dublin Hound and the Mayo Hare



First published in the Western People on Monday.

In these magical years, when Mayo have knocked so hard and so consistently on the Great Door of Glory, a certain amount of energy was wasted every year worrying over where the team’s Achilles’ heel was prior to each particular Final.

People would worry about how the team could possibly mark Kieran Donaghy or Michael Murphy. Childhood friends would fall out over who should take frees on the left hand side. Duels were threatened over whether this game or that game was lost on the line. And so on and so forth.

One of the many remarkable things about this year’s campaign has been the absence of that sort of worrying, even though this 2016 team is, arguably, more visibly flawed than the ones that went before it.

John Maughan’s 1996 team could hang their hats on a magnificent six-point win over Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final, still the last time Mayo beat the Kingdom in the Championship. Maughan’s 2004 team beat Tyrone. 2006 had two incredible victories over the Dubs, the game itself and the battle immediately before it, in the shadow of the Hill.

James Horan’s teams had more glory days than we can count. Even the ill-fated and unhappy reign of last year’s management had that triumphant Saturday evening win over Donegal.

This year hasn’t been like any of those. Worrying, disaffected displays in the League were followed by that shocking Saturday evening in a wet and miserable McHale Park, as Mayo tumbled out of the Connacht Championship for the first time since 2010.

Some people thought a run in the qualifiers would be the making of Mayo. The theory is that the back door allows for building in incremental improvements, away from the spotlight, until you come bursting back into All-Ireland contention.

And that’s fine, as long as you’re incrementally improving. There’s been very little to suggest that Mayo are improving, as they’ve huffed and puffed to get past Fermanagh, Kildare and Tipperary, with only the victory over Tyrone feeling like something substantial.

And now, somehow, Mayo find themselves in another All-Ireland Final, against Dublin. If this were one those hideous reality TV dating shows, there would be no problem telling the metropolitans and the Mayomen apart.

Dublin would be dressed in those Rumpelstiltskin-style shoes, brown and pointy. They’d have drainpipe jeans paired with a pricey-looking shirt – no tie, of course. They’d be clean-shaven, iron-jawed and wearing enough product in their hair to keep the pistons of a David Brown 990 tractor lubricated until well into the winter.

Bedraggled Mayo, by contrast, are covered from head to toe in clay, dirt and the sort of scratches you get from digging with your bare hands. Mayo would look like they had to tunnel in by hand to get there at all. Which, of course, is exactly what they have had to do. For Mayo, this summer has been defined by struggle.

Mayo could lose on Sunday. God knows, it’s not like it’d be the first time. All the balls that bounced their way in the summer could bounce against them.

Someone could get sent off for some bizarre black card infraction. Someone else could forget he’s sweeper this Sunday. If a bolt of lightning were to blow the ball up just as it’s crossing the black spot for the winning point we wouldn’t be entirely surprised. If such a calamity could befall anyone, it’d befall Mayo on the third Sunday in September.

But, but, but. Every now and again, in all of the matches, there have been moments that make you wonder. David Clarke charging off his line to stop the baby being thrown out with the bathwater in those anxious final minutes against Tyrone. Colm Boyle bouncing up and down with passion and fury and sheer, raw want. Aidan O’Shea taking constant abuse and still getting up and going again, time after time, game after game.

It’s hard to imagine these men are thinking of making up the numbers on Sunday. It’s hard to see Mayo willingly playing the hare to Dublin’s hound.

Dublin have that greyhound trait about them – the speed, the relentlessness, always giving the impression that they are born to do this, and only this. What Dublin might not be so good at doing is adapting to circumstances.

The greyhound expects the hare to always run away. If the hare stands his ground, the greyhound has to look for Plan B – if he has a Plan B.

We have seen Dublin shocked twice in recent years. Donegal turned them over as seven-to-one outsiders in that 2014 semi-final that wasn’t played in Limerick, and Kerry shocked Dublin last month. Dublin reacted better against Kerry this year than against Donegal in 2014 but – if it’s not Gaelic Football heresy to even think it – maybe Donegal ’14 had a little more in the locker than Kerry ’16, and that made a difference too.

Dublin aren’t the first team to be hailed as unbeatable. There have been many of them, down the years. But once the unbeatable team goes down as they all have, the mortality that was always there is suddenly obvious to all. Of course the Cluxton kickout was the rock on which they built their church – when that collapsed, everything else crumbled with it. Of course the team had peaked, and had nowhere to go but down. Sure that was obvious, if only we’d been looking.

What is particularly interesting from a Mayo perspective is that, having prayed so long for The Ultimate Team, we are now sending into a battle a flawed team with just a single gift, the gift of doing just enough to win. A team that knows it only has to be better than what’s in front of it, rather than the best of all time. Will the change of focus finally direct all Mayo’s energy to ridding ourselves of that sixty-five-year-old monkey on our backs once and for all? We’ll know by five o’clock on Sunday. Up Mayo.

Monday, August 08, 2016

The Proposed New Championship Structure is a GPA Trojan Horse

The GAA announced a new partnership deal with the GPA on July 25th of this year. Ten days later, the GAA announced an unexpected new proposal to reform the football Championship that will go before next year’s Congress and, if accepted, will start in 2018.

It may be that these events are simply a co-incidence. It may be that the money was simply resting in Father Crilly’s account. Either requires a certain suspension of disbelief.

The Irish ability to moan about the inevitable is a sad fault in the national psyche. It was this school of constant moaning about not being able to time Uncle Timmy’s return from beyond in America that lead to this A/B designation in the qualifiers, and inadvertently killed the best thing that fifteen years of the Qualifiers have given us – that extraordinary Gaelic football carnival that was the August Bank Holiday weekend.

All four quarter-finals being played over the August Bank Holiday weekend was like all the gunfighters arriving in Dodge City at the same time and you wouldn’t know who would be left standing until the smoke cleared.

That sense of occasion has been lessened by the quarter-finals now being spread over two days, even though neither Uncle Timmy nor the man in the moon knows if his team is in the A or B bracket, and Uncle Timmy as wise as ever he was in planning his return to the green isle of Erin.

Now the Association has come up with this proposal to insert a round-robin style playoff at what was the quarter-final stage, where the four provincial winners and the four survivors of the qualifiers will play each other, and the top four then go on to contest the semi-finals.

Ostensibly, this will create more games between the better teams, and free up time in the calendar to let counties properly organize their club Championships.

But wait – if the “better” teams are playing in this round-robin thing, what’s everybody else up to?

Since its inception, the mission of the GPA has been to exalt the county player as a special being within the Association. They have drawn in their horns in that regard in recent years, but leopards don’t generally change their spots. Professionalism has always been the GPA’s aim, and if they couldn’t swing it by hook they are now attempting to swing it by crook.

The Examiner’s excellent Kieran Shannon has repeatedly pointed out that one of the big causes of separation in the GAA between haves and have-nots is that there are only eight teams playing in Division 1 of the League. They get better by playing each other and, when a Division 1 team plays a team from a lower Division, the lower Division team doesn’t know what hit them until it’s all far too late. There are exceptions, but that’s generally how it works.

Now, consider that advantage coupled with the existence of a mini-Division 1 played in the best weather in which to play football, with 24 other counties looking on like Moses looking at the Promised Land, knowing that he can never go there.

Give it five years and the counties currently struggling to keep players at home long enough to play in the provincial Championships before high-tailing it to the States will be broken at last. In the meantime the elite will have become even more deeply embedded and the separation will be clear even to the dullest of minds.

It will be only logical, then, for some top players from the second-class counties to look to moving to a first-class county rather than go to the States – home birds, people who can't live without the Kerr Pinks, and so on - and that can be sorted out. It’s been done before, and after a while it will become a well-worn path.

Then the GAA will be in the same situation as rugby – eight professional teams where rugby has four, while the others continue on as before, but far, far away from the limelight and with no chance of a day in the sun again.

So far we haven’t heard how this Championship restructure idea came about, but your correspondent is willing to bet his best pair of shoes that it started with the GPA. Delegates at next year’s Congress will want to perform due diligence on this proposal, and beware of the GPA bearing gifts. Gift horses seldom work out for cities under siege.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Mickey Harte's Ongoing Boycott of RTÉ

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte hasn’t given an interview to RTÉ in five years, and counting. He has no problem with any Tyrone player doing interviews with RTÉ, but they don’t do them either, out of solidarity. Harte and the players do interviews with other media organisations, but not RTÉ.

How has this come to pass, and how can it have dragged on for so long?

It all started when Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh retired as RTÉ’s lead Gaelic Games broadcaster in the autumn of 2010. Some people thought that Brian Carthy would succeed Ó Muircheartaigh but instead RTÉ chose a rotating selection of commentators, including using commentators who were previously TV-only, such as Marty Morrissey and Ger Canning.

The feeling arose, rightly or wrongly, that RTÉ Sports were operating an anyone-but-Carthy policy. On May 23rd, 2011, Noel Curran, then Director-General of RTÉ, received a confidential letter protesting Carthy’s treatment. The letter was allegedly signed by Mickey Harte, Kieran McGeeney, Brian Cody, Mickey Moran, Justin McNulty, Conor Counihan and Kevin Walsh.

The details of the letter were leaked to the media, and portrayed as an attempt to dictate to RTÉ whom it should or shouldn’t employ. This is exactly what the letter was, of course, but this sort of lobbying occurs all the time. It may be a coincidence that Anthony Tohill disappeared from the Sunday Game after his criticism of Kerry’s Paul Galvin. Or it may not. Who knows?

Lobbying goes on all the time, with mixed success. Most broadcasters pay it no need. It's entirely their decision whom they employ or don't employ - how else, after all, would Tommy "Tom" Carr currently be commentating? It's not because the nation demands it, or will stop watching if Tommy isn't there to enlighten the viewing public.

Back to 2011. John Murray used to present a light-entertainment show on RTÉ Radio 1 in 2011 after Morning Ireland, in the slot currently occupied by Ryan Tubridy. The John Murray Show was light entertainment – a lot like a 2FM show, but less shouty, less music and with more material about going for walks and dealing with lumbago.

A fortnight after the letter protesting Carthy’s treatment arrived on Noel Curran’s desk, John Murray opened his show with a mock interview with Mickey Harte. The setup was that Murray asked questions that would be answered by recordings of Mickey Harte speaking in another context.

The idea was to satirise the idea of Mickey Harte deciding what RTÉ did or didn’t do. So Murray asks Mickey if it’d be OK for him (Murray) to present a show that morning from 9 to 10. When Mickey is OK with what, Murray went on to apologise for the Dalai Lama not being a guest (Harte had recently met the Dalai Lama) and, when Harte seemed to ask for a request, Murray played ten seconds of Daniel O’Donnell singing “The Pretty Little Girl from Omagh.”

This was an unfortunate choice of tune. Mickey Harte had a daughter who was a pretty little girl from Ballygawley, sixteen miles from Omagh. Michaela Harte was murdered at the age of 27 while on her honeymoon in January of 2011. It would be a lot to expect of Mickey Harte to see the funny side of that choice of song six months after burying his daughter.

And this is the reason for the dispute. RTÉ issued an apology for the sketch, saying that they regretted any offence caused, that this regret was “immediately and personally” communicated to Mickey Harte, and that RTÉ did not leak the letter.

The question of who did or didn't leak the letter is probably best solved by asking qui bono - who benefits from its leak? But it's odd the statement mentions the letter, because the letter doesn't matter in the light of the appalling tastelessness of the sketch. I don’t know if John Murray ever apologised on air, to the nation, about the sketch but I certainly don’t remember it or could find trace of it online.

What, then, to do? The Tyrone County Board, by all accounts, are deeply unhappy about the RTÉ boycott and are moving might and main to get Harte to relent. In the light of Harte’s actions concerning his home club in the ’eighties, it will take more than might or main to move him. Harte is a stubborn man, and it takes an awful lot to turn him.

So the question then arises of whether or not RTÉ have done enough to show their horror at so ghastly a sketch. Interviewed in the Irish News, Sunday Game host Michael Lyster is quoted as saying that “It’s not for the lack of effort or not for the lack of want” that the dispute is now in its fifth year.

We all inform our consciences in different ways. Some people would sit in the car outside Mickey Harte’s house day and night waiting to be forgiven. If crawling would help Harte carry his cross, why not crawl? It costs you nothing, and you may do some good. However unfair you feel Harte is being in his reaction, Michaela’s death was still worse by no small order.

Maybe RTÉ have done that. Maybe John Murray or Noel Curran or Ryle Nugent, RTÉ’s head of sport, sat in the car outside Mickey Harte’s house waiting for a chance to make good for days before giving up. Maybe they did.

The John Murray show ended on RTÉ Radio One in June, 2015. Murray himself was back on air in August of 2015 as one of the co-anchors of Weekend Sport. It is not known if the employment of Murray as a sports anchor is part of the effort or part of the want that Michael Lyster referred to in describing the national broadcaster’s attempts to bridge the gap between themselves and Mickey Harte.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Coding in National Schools Isn't a Good Idea

See, kids? Coding is fun!
The Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, has written to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to request that the NCCA consider the teaching of coding in national schools. This is a bad idea, for three reasons.

The Basis of Coding is Already on the Curriculum
The basis of coding is already on the curriculum. It is called “maths.” Maths and coding go hand-in-hand. If you can do one, you can do the other. Both work on the notion of orderly thinking. If this, then that. It is possible for a talented coder to have been poor at maths in school but that coder’s mind for maths will have clicked just when the coding clicked for him or her. The two are intertwined like Maguire and Patterson.

Sadly, we teach maths the same way we do most other things – arseways. OECD studies regularly show that Irish standards of literacy and numeracy are consistently poor. The Irish Times reported at the start of the year that Ireland ranked 18th of 23 countries in literacy, and 21st out of 23 in numeracy, among 16- to 19- year-olds. It also reported “about one in five university graduates can manage basic literacy and numeracy tasks – such as understanding the instructions on a bottle of aspirin – but struggle with more complex tasks.” University students.

These are terrifying figures. The OECD reports can be behind the curve timewise, and advocates of Project Maths will claim that once that initiative kicks in the results will go right up. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests that the Project Maths course simply adds another layer of confusion to a subject that is intimidating to begin with. It’s a grim prospect.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All
The only way a minister could dream of better publicity than talking about this strange thing, ‘coding,’ would be if he or she were to announce that the DoE were bringing in some specialists from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as consultants to discuss adding transfiguration, charms and potions to the curriculum. Coder is the astronaut job of our times, the job that is done by pioneers who create the future.

But reader, a job market where the jobs are made up entirely of coders – or astronauts, or witches and wizards, for that matter – is not exactly ready to survive in the choppy seas of Ireland’s open economy. How many coders do we need per head of population? Probably not as many as we need nurses, or doctors, or teachers, or shopkeepers, or a thousand and one other jobs that are just as relevant if not quite as buzzy.

Short-Term Populism is the Curse of Irish Politics
Why, then, with a need for diverse skills in an open economy, with basic literacy and numeracy red-letter issues in education, to say nothing of dealing with eternally bolshy teachers’ unions and getting teachers trained as coders, did the Minister write this letter to the NCCA? It is impossible to look into another man’s heart but the politician’s eternal quest for good publicity is a reasonable assumption.

Twenty-five years ago, gay marriage was a taboo subject. Now, Irish politicians are tearing the backs of each other trying to photographed having a pint in the Pantibar. Is this because a wave of social liberalism has swept through Leinster House? Or is it because every politician knows this is guaranteed good, criticism-free publicity and you can’t have too much of that?

The success of the coder dojo, a movement that introduces children to coding at an early age, has been mentioned as a reason for coding to be introduced at a more general level in primary schools. But a certain amount of – delicious irony! – what statisticians call “response bias” is at work there. The children who are doing well at coder dojos are the children who would do well at pretty much any academic subject, and who enjoy the priceless support of a home environment that encourages that sort of endeavour. The OECD stats suggest that such an environment is sadly atypical of the nation’s children in general.

But what difference do facts about literacy and numeracy gaps, diverse talents in a diverse economy or response bias make to a politician who wants to get in the papers? None at all. He or she is certainly due for claps on the back the next time he or she is out on the town, because politicians typically socialise with people who send their children to coder dojos, and ballet, and hockey, and the Gaeltacht. These people are also those who write for and edit newspapers, so it’s winner all round. And when the thing grinds to a halt, what odds? It'll be some other minister’s problem by then.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Suggested Changes to the Rules of Gaelic Football

Gaelic football has become impossible to referee. The nature of the game as reflected in the rulebook is at odds with the game as it’s played in reality. The games are under more scrutiny than every before, with greater levels of TV coverage, better cameras, social media and the rest. Therefore, the rules must change to both keep up with the times and to secure the fundamental nature of the game, lest it turn into some sort of poor man’s rugby league.

I expect precisely none of these rules to ever be implemented, as the GAA’s bureaucracy is up there with the Vatican’s, but still. It’s easy to mouth off about what’s wrong. These are my suggestions on how to put things right. Some are amendments to the playing rules, some to the administration of the competitions. Here we go.

Bring in the Australian Rules Tackle
There are two tackles in Gaelic football – slapping the ball from the hands of the ball-carrier, and a shoulder-to-shoulder contact. Pulling a jersey, pushing in the back, striking or attempting to strike an opposing player are all fouls of increasing levels of severity.

However. Modern football, and I suspect historical football, would look like ballroom dancing if the rules against pushing, pulling and – sorry, Father – striking were enforced. Those laws are unenforceable and therefore should be repealed.

An obvious successor is the tackle as defined in Australian Rules. Contact anywhere between the knees the shoulders, the ball-carrier must lawfully release (that is to say, deliver a foot or a handpass) or else it’s a foul and possession is handed over.

Simple, easy to understand and enforceable. No slobbering about someone not being that sort of player or not really meaning it.

Replace the Black Card with a Sin Bin
Nobody knows what a black-card offense is. Admit the whole idea of the black card was a mistake, drop it and move on. Go back to the idea of the ten-minute sin bin a la rugby for persistent and cynical fouling. Besides; we’ll need the bin again later.

End Appeals to the CCCC
The consistent appeals to the CCCC of the most blatant fouls and, worse, the CCCC overturning the original decisions make a joke of the disciplinary process. Let counties take their medicine. Appoint a Discipline Czar or Star Chamber to review fouls to ensure justice but let his or their word be law and get on with it.

The Czar or Star Chamber should also be empowered to review game footage and hand out bans for events not seen by the referee but seen by everyone in Ireland through TV, social media and the rest. Head-in-the-sand attitudes won’t wash in the 21st Century.

Distribute Money Equally Among Counties
Some counties’ ability to fund-raise is stronger than others. This occurs for different reasons, but it’s chiefly to do with accidents of population. Wouldn’t it make sense for all such monies raised to be distributed equally, or at least to make some sort of effort at revenue sharing?

Building a super team is no good if there’s nobody left for the super team to play against. If the avaricious billionaire owners of American Football’s NFL can manage revenue sharing, then surely the amateur sportspeople of the Gaelic Athletic Association should be able to take a stab at it?

Allow Fighting in Limited Circumstances, à la the NHL
Professional ice hockey, as played in the National Hockey League of the USA and Canada, is the only non-combat sport I can think of in which fighting is tolerated. It’s not strictly legal – if a fight breaks out, the fighters end up in the sin-bin for their troubles – but it is indulged.

The reason is because hockey is a dangerous game, and NHL teams play each other a lot. Bad blood can fester, and things can get out of control. And the idea has evolved that having players drop their gloves and fight it out releases pressure that, if not otherwise released, would result in much more dangerous play that would see body checks to knees and heads that are career- and life-threatening. The NHL sees fighting as the lesser of potential evils.

The evil that faces Gaelic games isn’t to do with noxious rivalries. There are some counties that play dirty against each other, but it’s tolerable.

What isn’t tolerable is the evolution of a particularly dirty type of sledging. It’s surely part of any game to tease your opponent to see if you can put him off his game, but social codes of the past meant that there was a line drawn.

Modern social codes have shattered all societal boundaries, and players have to listen to up to seventy minutes of the most vile abuse, always knowing that the abuser will receive no punishment for it.

It would be nice if sure abuse were reported to the Discipline Czar are mentioned earlier and he could take care of it, but how could that be enforced? All evidence would be hearsay.

Therefore, take a lesson from hockey. If your man says something nasty about your mother, a slap to the chops may cause him to think again. It’s possible the man will slap back, but that’s ok. The GPA always tell us what elite athletes play inter-county now. An exchange of slaps shouldn’t do too much damage until the referee turns up.

Up until now, striking or attempting to strike has been a theoretical sending-off offence in the GAA. In this case, five or ten minutes in the bin for both parties and the game continues on as usual. If nothing else, it should motivate the funny boys to work harder on their material.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Galway Shock Mayo in Castlebar

There are two ways of looking at Galway’s shock defeat of Mayo at McHale Park on Saturday. We can take the broad view, or we can take a closer look at the game in and of itself. Let’s try both, and see what we can learn.

The media spent the final weeks of the National League bemoaning that those league games were the last interesting things scribes would have to write about until August. This is because that same media, possibly dazzled by propaganda from the GPA, considers the Championship a fossilized entity, a killing field in which “lesser” teams cannot possibly gain by being exposed to the mighty guns of the Division 1 Super Powers.

Up to a point, Lord Copper. Last week, Tipperary of Division 3 unhorsed mighty Cork of Division 1. On Saturday, Galway of Division 2 unhorsed Mayo of Division 1, not only in Mayo itself but with fifty-two of Galway’s best and brightest missing from the muster-roll.

These things should not be happening. Sports science and the great god of the age, money, tell us that a commoner may never gaze on a crown in the Championship any more.

So what happened on Saturday? Is it possible that the peculiar magic of this fossilized Championship, no longer fit for the modern athlete and fan, somehow conjured dream into reality once more? Could it be that helpless Galway, with their missing players and dressed only their lowly Division 2 motley, somehow raised themselves at the sight of the green and red and channeled the spirits of their forbears to make themselves, for that one crowded hour, bigger than they thought they could be?

Could it be that there is something inherent in the very Championship itself, in the warp and weft of its history and tradition, that means Galway can raise themselves against Mayo in a Connacht semi-final in a way that is impossible to imagine them doing against Monaghan, say, in a round 3 Champions League style tournament so much more fitting to modernity?

Who knows? But it does seem legitimate to at least raise the question.

And what of Mayo themselves? This isn’t Mayo’s first time getting ambushed by Galway in Castlebar. May 24th, 1998 is a date that still lives in infamy in the County Mayo. Did Mayo think that sports science and money and TV ads would protect them from piseog, éigse and oidhreacht peile? What can a millionaire American basketball coach writing a motivational book know of the feeling in a Galwayman’s gut when he sees the green and red banners flying so proudly and arrogantly high?

The day was Galway’s and rightly so. While they and Roscommon prepare for Connacht’s banner day, Mayo have to ask themselves what exactly happened. Did they have a bad day at the office, and will they now scorch a path of devastation through the qualifiers in the hurt and fury of their response?

Oisin McConville suggested in the Examiner on Saturday that it was time for mutinous Mayo players to put their money where their extraordinarily big mouths are and, as sure as night follows day, there will be more than one why-oh-why column in the Irish Independent this coming week roasting the Mayo panel for what they did to the previous management.

Yes. And yet, no.

The mutiny is misunderstood by the national media. The mutiny was not a cause; it was a symptom. The mutiny was the inevitable result of the Mayo County Board’s failure to deal with the end of James Horan’s time as manager, a failure that, based on Saturday’s evidence, has yet to be fixed.

The situation at the moment appears to be that the Board wants Pat and Noel but wants no truck with James. Pat and Noel are unacceptable to the players but there is no way between Hell and Bethlehem the Board want Horan back. The only thing either party seems to agree about is that neither of them wanted anything at all to do Kevin McStay and Liam McHale.

Hence, Stephen Rochford. Rochford has no small job to do in the coming two weeks to reassemble the green and red Humpty Dumpty. Mayo were red-rotten on Saturday and, as the man in charge, Rochford has to fix them. Rochford will be forgiven any step he takes, no matter how drastic, so long as Mayo win the All-Ireland as a result. Anything short of that and he’ll be tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail, of course. Galway have their tradition, and we have ours. Up Mayo.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

A Modest Proposal Concerning the Hurling Championship

For all the criticism the back door system in football has (rightly) received, it is interesting that the hurling Championship seems to remain serenely immune from questioning, to say nothing of criticism. For the Gael to criticise hurling feels vaguely like treason, of a similar scale to having a sneaking regard for England in the soccer or secretly agreeing with Irish Times articles trolling speakers of the First Language.

One of the reasons that the hurling Championship has proved so difficult to reform is the strange place of the Munster Championship. One of the major arguments against proper reform of the hurling Championship is the “special place” that the Munster Championship holds in the Irish sports calendar. This is despite the fact that it’s now been ten years and counting since the Munster Champions went on to win the All-Ireland. There’s something wrong there somewhere.

What’s far worse is the peculiar situation of not knowing where a team stands after it wins or loses a game. In terms of positioning to win the All-Ireland, are Clare really any worse off since Waterford beat them on Sunday? Can anybody keep track of the losers of the Provincial championships? There are many back doors in hurling’s mansion, to the extent of its being a damnable job to keep track of who’s who until the semi-finals arrive in August. That doesn’t make for much of a Championship.

The paucity of counties that are able to compete for the Liam McCarthy Cup doesn’t help. We’re seeing greater and greater separation in football, but hurling has always been a game of haves and have-nots. Limerick, Clare, Waterford, Wexford, Offaly and Galway are all considered hurling counties despite not having more than thirty All-Irelands between them in over 125 years of trying.

One of the arguments for the retention of traditional football championship is the importance of the local rivalry. There aren’t enough teams playing hurling at the same level to have that rivalry. As such, in an effort to generate gate receipts and put some sort of gloss of competitiveness on the Championship, the vast majority of hurling counties are put through this out again, in again Lanigan’s Ball of a Championship before Kilkenny or Tipperary come along and box their ears for them, just like always.

Whatever slim chance (and slimmer it’s getting) there is of bringing back the old football Championship, there isn’t a snowball’s of the old hurling Championship returning. There just wouldn’t be enough games. But the current format is maddening, because teams are no further nor closer to the All-Ireland on the 31st of July than they were at Christmas.

So here’s the suggestion. We need more games, and we also need more clarity about who’s in the hunt and who’s a gone goose. So continue with the straight-knockout Championship but play each fixture as a best-of-three or best-of-five series.

The precedent is in American sports, where playoffs in baseball, ice hockey and basketball are all best-of series.

Under this sort of system, last Sunday would have been the first leg of a best-of-three between Clare and Waterford. If Waterford win again this coming Sunday, they move on and Clare are gone. If not, it’s mega-showdown for Game 3 in sunny Thurles in a fortnight. Good times.

The American sports play best-of-sevens, but they play three games a week. Midweek games would be just a little too jarring for the rhythm of the Championship and the summer isn’t long enough for best-of-fives played at the weekend only. As such best-of-three is certainly a good place to start.

If we had a best-of-series now, Game 2 next week between Clare and Waterford suddenly becomes huge, instead of Clare treading water and lesser counties into the ground for the next six weeks, and Waterford suffering long dark nights of the soul trying to decide if they really want another Munster title for all the good the other ones have done them in recent years.

Everybody thinks the Championship needs fireworks. Making the hurling Championship into best-of-threes with no backdoor would certainly strike a few sparks.