Offaly captain Finbarr Cullen lifts the trophy after the 1997 Leinster SFC final against Meath, the last time Offaly won the Leinster senior football title. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile.

Leinster SFC under major threat as Congress draws near

The clock is ticking down towards the GAA’s special Congress for 2021, due to be held in Croke Park on October 23. Offaly GAA, and its constituent clubs, have to formulate a position on a wide range of motions, however the most relevant by far are the two proposals for the revamp of the football championship.

It is theoretically possible to reject both, and there is probably a decent case to do exactly that but, in my view, the case to ensure that Proposal “B” is shut down as hard and decisively as possible is overwhelming.

To describe the two options in a nutshell, both involve the creation of the Tailteann Cup, however option one builds the summer around expanding the provincial championships and creating an All-Ireland series around them, with the Tailteann Cup there as a fallback competition for those who finish bottom of their groups in the four provinces.

Proposal B runs the provincial championships off earlier in the season, detached from the championship, with no bearing on the race for Sam Maguire. The All-Ireland championship effectively replaces the National League, and by any measure, this is the first step in fatally devaluing the provincial championships to the point that they become of little more value than the O’Byrne Cup.

That may seem over-dramatic, but the value of a provincial championship lies in the fact that every county is fully committed to winning it. It’s absolutely true that for counties like Kerry and Dublin, and possibly even Mayo, it’ll take more than provincial success to make for a good year. However, every county is still fully committed towards winning the main prize in their province.

What that means is that when another county is able to step up and secure success, there is no asterisk attached. When this writer was in primary school, Coventry City won the FA Cup in 1987 and Wimbledon the following year. There was no question of a lack of effort from the other teams in the competition, so their supporters rightly got to feel on top of the world.

Can the same be said of Leicester City’s win last year, given that (for example) Manchester United rested players for the quarter-final tie between the two clubs?

The Leinster SFC may be a fairly dull competition when measured by the crude yardstick of who lifts the Delaney Cup at the end of it, but there’s so much more to it than that.

Moreover, the issues surround financial doping of the Dubs are ongoing and rumours of their demise are very much overstated. But there will come a day when they are beaten in Leinster, just as they were finally beaten in an All-Ireland contest. When that day comes, whether it’s Kildare, Meath or even Offaly that are there to take advantage, is it right that the widely held view will be that the Dubs were just holding their fire until the bigger contests later in the year?

For the sake of the GAA as a whole, it’s not healthy to create a situation where the only team that will end the year with a meaningful reward in terms of silverware will be the All-Ireland champions.

Provincial wins in recent seasons for teams like Cavan, Tipperary and Roscommon meant the world to those counties, because even though they were never going to win the All-Ireland, they took on their neighbours and they came out on top, no caveats or qualifications.

It may be ten years away, it may be in 2022 – but the year when Offaly get back to a Leinster final is coming. When it does, and if it’s the Dubs lined up on the other side, the only way to have it is that the game matters to Dublin, so that if Offaly do win, then their status as champions of the province will be unquestioned. If that carrot isn’t there, what’s the point?

- Kevin Egan