Third Level GAA’s Scheduled Irrelevance

The final week of January and the ball is just about ready to get thrown-in and the league is off.

Three months of preparation for the national league campaign has come to a conclusion, long training sessions, and challenge games have all been played.

The new scheduling applied for the O’Byrne Cup, FDB League and McKenna Cup’s has worked quiet well. With some met office luck we haven’t had games postponed and with good scheduling it has all fallen together.

This time around the new format has given us in the media world something to write and/or talk about, meaning the usual post-Christmas clap-trap of player-burn out or manager fees didn’t see many pages.

Inter-county managers have given the new format the thumbs-up. Competitive games at the right time of the season reduced the stress of organising challenge games.

While talk of ticket prices and change of playing rules now take the GAA headlines, one irrelevance still holds up the calendar, namely the Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup.

Let’s call a spade a spade for once. There’s only two types of people who are really interested in these post-secondary school competitions, those who are in college and those who are working in college.

I write this as someone who has first-hand experience on the side-line of St. Patrick’s college or UCD or watching DCU annihilate AIT on a cold winters evening in January.

Yes, there I stood on the side-line, notebook and pen in hand as WIT or CIT pulled no punches against St.Patrick’s College, me the reporter and about 40-60 other people, that number includes the relevant backroom teams.

Unfortunately Tuesday\Wednesday\Thursday afternoon fixtures aren’t conducive to get a big crowd. Ok, I’ll give you that, but even when it gets to final weekend, the Sold-out signs aren’t being brought out of storage just in-case.

As I say there are two types of people who love the Sigerson and the Fitzgibbon Cups, the college students themselves and to be fair this is understandable.

If your college classmates are lining out, then sure it will be good fun to go along, isn’t college about fun as-well? Sure it is, even if you’ve picked the wrong course and are just seeing it out!

In reality how many of the NUIG and UCD class of 2018 will keep a watchful eye on the next editions or trapes into a final over the coming years. Once you’re out of the college bubble, the focus becomes your student debt.

The second element college staff. If you take colleges/universities as the industry that it is, rather than purely an institute of higher education, their break-outs into the GAA world are questionable.

Is there any reason why the country’s top higher education facilities should be handing out scholarships to attract the best GAA players in the country, other than P.R that comes with winning an irrelevant competition but to those who want a medal around their college?

Let’s look at this year’s Sigerson cup results. UCC 7-26 AIT 2-3, just the 38 points difference. UCD 5-8 CIT 0-10, another classic, maybe CIT need to start taking out recruitment advert campaigns across the country to bridge the gap!

In 2018, 29% of Sigerson games saw a team win by 10+ points! Not very competitive, in fact very loaded towards the big city universities.

The 2018 Fitzgibbon cup wasn’t exactly without fault either, played for the sake of it with a group system and 22 matches. Of these 36% saw the +10 points margin.

Including some classics such as UCC 0-13 UCD 11-15 or the quarter-final game of UL 4-18 UCC 0-8.

So a B Championship is the answer? Not really, this is not like inter-county Gaelic games where birth-right fulfils county pride.

Money and high performance systems will win out in this regard. Sporting scholarship will always tempt a young man or woman to a big city. The smaller colleges will be hurt by the families who just can’t afford third level.

There’s a benefit for the college in this, good PR to have an irrelevant cup to their name. Or to get press time on player burn-out reports.

Areas of the GAA have seen sense already, the collegiate competitors have been removed from the FBD League and are set to fall by the McKenna Cup way-side.

It’s now time for the GAA to call time on these two cups, far removed from the community aspect of GAA, not focusing on the local community but on Higher education sporting elite.

And if it goes, will you notice it? The only ones crying foul will be the collegiate blazers having to make a case on how much their school president pours into the sports budget.

Leaving hand passes alone was the right decision, ending an irrelevance is the next one.