29 Jun 2022

Time to split up Mayo! Knee jerk reactions the way to go

Time to split up Mayo! Knee jerk reactions the way to go

The Ballinamore Sean O'Heslins contingent of the Leitrim Minor team - Michael McKiernan, Paul Moran and Seamus Wisley pictured with team physio Ronan O'Rourke Picture: Willie Donnellan

What are we going to do about Mayo! No, this isn't a Dub trying to be a smart arse about the Dublin debate that has erupted over the past two or three weeks but a genuine question - what is going to be done to help Leitrim take on Mayo in the years to come?

The debate went up a decibel or two over the weekend after the Dubs made short work of Cavan but not so much when Mayo trounced a Tipperary team who touched the heart of every genuine GAA fans in the country over the last few weeks.

Cavan, another romantic favourite, fought as if their lives depended on it but found themselves up against a Dublin team who seem to have genuinely moved it on a step or two from the last few years.

Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Tipperary but both results reinforced the notion that the 2020 championship has been an abberation, an outlier in a year unlike any other.

But what are we going to do about Mayo? Or Galway? Or Roscommon? And that's just from a Leitrim point of view, no mention of our neighbours in Fermanagh, Longford and Sligo! What about Kerry or Tyrone or Donegal?

It's a genuine question but not one you hear all too often in the debate that has gripped the Gaelic football world right now.

A fascinating debate on The Sunday Game saw Pat Gilroy, the man who led the transformation of Dublin from perennial underachievers to the greatest threat to the existence of the GAA (so we're told), champion a radical revamp of GAA structures so that smaller counties like Leitrim can aspire towards championship glory.

But even on The Sunday Game, the debate was framed of how unfair it all is on Kerry, on Meath, Kildare, Cork, Galway, Donegal, Tyrone and Mayo but no word of how unfair it is for Leitrim to pit themselves against Mayo and Galway, or Fermanagh against Tyrone, Longford against Meath, Carlow against Kildare.

The entire debate is focussed on the elite, not the Leitrims of this world - definitely what you might term as first world problems!

And even though I feel I am harping on about this time and time again, the current state of the game is nothing new, only the debate about it is!

I'll tell you a story - my favourite Leitrim victory didn't come in 1994, it came a year before when George Dugdale inspired the Green & Gold to a fabulous victory in Tuam, a first win over the Tribesmen since 1949. We repeated the dose a year later but right now, in December 2020, some 26 years later, we haven't beaten the Tribesmen in championship action since!

In over 30 years with the Observer, I've only reported on one championship win over Mayo and that was 1994. Even with our auld enemy Roscommon, it is not that much better - two wins in 1994 and 2000. But what's being done to help Leitrim take on Roscommon on an equal footing, a rivalry that over the last ten years has shifted from competitiveness to one-sided hammerings!

Remember the early 90s when Roscommon and Leitrim battled like dervishes for superiority? Or even the 50s & 60s when the team of McGarty & Flynn routinely eclipsed our neighbours? Has there been anything remotely close in our meetings with the Rossies over the last six or seven years?

That's not even talking about Galway and Mayo!

Yet those depressing stats aren't unusual if you look back through the years and it is the same old story for Longford, for Antrim, for Fermanagh, for Carlow and for so many other footballing teams living in the shadow of the giants of the game. Is one Munster title in 85 years a good return for Tipperary or two in 50 for Cavan?

Joe Brolly tweeted on Sunday that you could throw €10 million at Leitrim and it would make no difference and that splitting the Dubs solves nothing for Leitrim!

Trouble is, Brolly is not wrong!

There is a problem at the heart of inter-county football and it needs urgent attention but as long as we insist on county boundaries, Leitrim and the other smaller counties population wise are, and always have been, at an enormous disadvantage.

Strangely, the GAA have already acted on this very problem, only problem it is confined to hurling only with five tiers in the championship and an acknowledgment that not everyone is created equal.

Split the Dubs up is a knee jerk solution but as a northsider, I'd be just as happy seeing us northsiders lift Sam but that doesn't do anything for Leitrim's problems!

So unless we decide to split Mayo into five separate teams, roughly equal to Leitrim's population, maybe we should be asking what we can do to improve the chances of Leitrim and Co rather than moaning about unfair it all is to the giants of the game!

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