The Connacht Championship has become an exercise in futility and many GAA games have become meaningless. We need a new GAA formula now to see a future in these beloved games
I have always loved the GAA. Indeed it is how I came to America, playing with hurling and football teams in Chicago and later San Francisco.
There is nothing to match the camaraderie, the friendships the goodwill among teammates and the social life that the GAA is famous for. Without its support mechanisms, I would never have stayed in America during those early fraught years of emigration. I got my first job and first apartment through local GAA teams.
The GAA is an institution that deserves every respect. When every other pillar of Irish life was falling apart in the 2010 era of pedophile priests, wanker bankers and see no evil governments, the GAA stood out like a beacon, more popular than ever.
Last Sunday in New York’s Gaelic Park under horrific weather conditions, thousands of brave and true GAA fans gathered for the annual game between New York a Connacht team from home to mark the opening of the Connacht football championship. Each year one of the five teams in Connacht travel to the famed Gaelic Park; this year’s turn was Mayo’s.
Braving the elements was a testament to the players’ fortitude, and both the visiting fans and the home contingent did themselves proud once again.
But I stayed away this year.
I knew it was going to be like when Alabama plays the softest team on their schedule and a massacre ensues.
Mayo, after their National Football League win in March, can rightfully claim to be the best team in Ireland right now.
We can safely say that New York, with the lack of emigration, no access to regular warm-up games and no comparable training facilities, was facing an impossible task.
Right from the kick-off, the vast gulf became apparent. Mayo raced to a 14 points to nil lead and the game was well over.
The men of the west were runway winners on a score of 1-22 to 0-4, a bad drubbing.
The Connacht Championship has been an exercise in futility since 1999 for New York, with the score showing the locals with zero wins, 19 defeats (though it must be stated they ran Leitrim close twice and Roscommon once).
But as emigration ebbs, it seems New York will get weaker rather than stronger, and therein lies the problem.
Writing in The Irish Times, Kevin McStay, who managed the Roscommon team that almost lost to New York, put forward a solution that makes far more sense than the current one.
Under its provincial setups where the winners and runners up in each province proceed to the next round, many GAA games have become meaningless. Dublin is so dominant in Leinster that every game is a pushover; likewise at present with Kerry in Munster.
I think what is needed is to abolish the provincial structure and play the All-Ireland series with a preliminary round involving, say, those teams that performed worse in the National Football League which precedes the championship.
Thus New York might get to play, perhaps, a Waterford or an Antrim with a real chance of winning a game. It would also give unglamorous teams from Ireland a shot at the limelight. If New York progressed it would have a galvanizing impact, especially on American-born players who are the future backbone of the sport.
In his Tuesday Times column, McStay wrote, “I have spoken to other managers who go out there and this is a recurring theme. It had become a dismal experience. If you are a manager or a player, the New York tie is just a box ticker.
“In the minds of visiting managers, it is a redundant fixture, a duty to fulfill with no obvious gain.”
Yet, he says he does not want it ended. Perhaps a different formula could work for everyone. What is there now is not working.
Were you watching the match last Sunday, against New York and Mayo? Let us know your thought in the comments section below.