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talking point Let's cut to the chase, keep the provincial championships and examine NPHET's metrics

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Longford's Patrick Fox, right, and Michael Quinn react after their side's defeat to Meath in the Leinster SFC quarter-final at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Meath. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Longford's Patrick Fox, right, and Michael Quinn react after their side's defeat to Meath in the Leinster SFC quarter-final at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Meath. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Longford's Patrick Fox, right, and Michael Quinn react after their side's defeat to Meath in the Leinster SFC quarter-final at Páirc Tailteann in Navan, Meath. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Louth, Wicklow, Carlow, Waterford, Clare, Sligo and Down. We will scarcely hear another word about these seven teams during the next seven months.

Their race is run. Their fans have nothing to look forward to for the rest of the summer.

All the work the players put in for the past couple of months counts for nothing. It is totally unfair that there is no back-door format in football whereas, for the second year in a row, all the teams in the All-Ireland Hurling Championship get a second chance.

It took the guts of three weeks to get rid of eight countries from the Euros.

The GAA championship is more cut-throat. By Sunday evening, seven more counties - Laois, Wexford, Offaly, Longford, Roscommon, Fermanagh and Antrim were on the scrapheap.

The hammerings endured by Sligo, Down and Clare the week before brought all the doomsday merchants out in force. There were demands for the scrapping of the provincial system and a new format for the All-Ireland series.

Let’s cut to the chase. How can the gap between the best and the rest be narrowed if almost half the counties play no football until next February?

There is no quick fix to the current malaise.

Take hurling, where there are five tiers in the championship.

Yet in the Lory Meagher Cup Longford beat Louth by 21 points last week, while in the elite Liam MacCarthy Cup, Dublin beat Antrim by 18 points and Wexford had 20 points to spare over Laois.

I’m not convinced that giving teams more games against sides of comparable standard is the way forward.

For teams to improve they need to be playing better quality opposition. So, this is why the provincial championships – even though they are flawed – ought to be retained.

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Fermanagh players leave the field dejected after their side's Ulster SFC quarter-final defeat to Monaghan

Fermanagh players leave the field dejected after their side's Ulster SFC quarter-final defeat to Monaghan

Fermanagh players leave the field dejected after their side's Ulster SFC quarter-final defeat to Monaghan

For the vast majority of counties it still represents their best chance of winning silverware – and the value of local derbies should never be underestimated.

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Last year we had the romance of the Tipperary and Cavan provincial successes – and don’t tell me Wexford, Longford and Offaly didn’t enjoy their wins last weekend.

Abolishing the provincial championships won’t solve the problem. Perhaps, it should be played at a different time of year. There is also a place for the proposed Tailteann Cup.

But I still believe that every county should have an opportunity to play in the All-Ireland series.

Nowadays, all inter-county players invest a huge amount of time, energy and resources into their careers. The least they deserve is an opportunity to play in the glamour competition.

The big danger is that players will lose interest in playing for the weaker counties. There is evidence of this happening.

Once the pandemic is over, and travel to the US begins again, the lure of the dollar and a summer vacation will become irresistible for many young players. This will weaken the smaller and struggling counties even more.

But let’s not pretend that this is just a Gaelic football issue. Hurling people might not agree, but it’s a problem in that code as well.

The Liam MacCarthy Cup is confined to the top 11 teams. Yet, last weekend we saw teams lose by 20 and 18 points in the Leinster Championship. Meanwhile, in the Munster series Waterford suffered a hammering from Clare, even if the margin was only four points.

Attempts at reforming the All-Ireland championship remind me of the efforts to solve the problems of rural Ireland.

For starters, there are too many quangos involved, too much self-interest and too many short-term fixes proposed.

It is not a question of flicking a switch and the problem is solved.

As has been the case for decades, there will always be a handful of dominant teams.

There is a population imbalance between the west and east coast, and this has huge implications for the GAA during the rest of the decade.

Like rural Ireland, the key for the GAA is building from the bottom up.

So, money must be ploughed into coaching and games development at schools and club level, instead of wasting it on high-profile and expensive senior management teams.

But with the best will in the world every county is not suddenly going to become a contender for Sam Maguire, even if all the right structures are put in place.

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A general view of action during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship semi-final match between Dublin and Galway at Croke Park recently. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

A general view of action during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship semi-final match between Dublin and Galway at Croke Park recently. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

A general view of action during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship semi-final match between Dublin and Galway at Croke Park recently. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

But what we want to avoid are the kind of hammerings we witnessed last weekend, and will probably see again in the coming weeks. The Mayo versus Leitrim game won’t be pretty, for example.

On a different topic it really annoyed me that only 200 people were in Fitzgerald Stadium last Saturday to see the Kerry v Clare Munster championship game.

There wasn’t a single person allowed to stand on the biggest terrace in Ireland.

Yet at the same time in another part of Killarney 200 people were attending a Christy Moore concert in the INEC Centre. It doesn’t add up.

I’m no scientist, but surely the risk of the virus being transmitted on a terrace is slim.

The metrics NPHET use to come up with their projections need to be independently examined. It’s almost as if they feel duty-bound to paint the bleakest possible picture.

Thankfully, there has been some movement in terms of allowing more people to attend games. It is long overdue, but more needs to be done.

It would not be outlandish to have 10,000 at the Munster final in Killarney at the end of the month if Kerry and Cork qualify.

Otherwise, we will have the farcical situation of more people milling around the centre of Killarney on match day than inside the stadium.

Hopefully, if this weekend’s experiments go well, we will see a bit more normality returning in terms of attendances in the weeks ahead.

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