By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — The GAA finally made plans to revolutionize the football championship the green light at a Special Congress in Dublin last weekend. Gone now is the knockout concept beloved of the football summer for over a hundred years, and in comes a second chance for first-round losers.
Significantly, those losers will not go back into a draw confined to their own provinces. Rather, they will be placed in a countrywide hat, throwing up the possibility of novel clashes between counties that have never met at championship level.
The Open Draw system will generate a staggering 29 additional championship games and make the GAA up to £5m in additional revenue. However, the new format was so radical that congress delegates opted for a two-year trial.
In essence, the provincial competitions will be retained, with losers from the first round to the beaten provincial finalists offered the chance of grabbing four places in the newly constituted All-Ireland quarterfinals, where they will join the four provincial champions.
"Every county is guaranteed at least two games," said Padraig Duffy of Monaghan, who chaired the committee that came up with the proposals. "While the Open Draw element will prove very attractive."
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Most delegates accepted the need for change, and chairman of the Players’ Committee, Jarlath Burns, spoke of the a sense of "hoplessness and bewilderment" experienced by players who train four nights a week throughout the winter and find their season over after just one game.
But Seamus Aldridge of Kildare was a dissenting voice. "As far as I’m concerned, this plan will devalue the provincial championships, is that what we want?"
Graigue-Ballycallan took their second Kilkenny county hurling title in three years with a 0-16 to 0-9 victory over first time finalists O’Loughlin Gaels at Nowlan Park last Sunday, while Sixmilebridge were emphatic winners over Eire Og by 4-9 to 1-8 in the Clare decider at Cusack Park.
Newtownshandrum claimed a first-ever Cork championship with a 0-14 to 0-11 victory over Erin’s Own at Pairc Ui Chaoimh, while Toomevara recovered from the sending off of Tipperary captain Tommy Dunne to take the county title by 2-10 to 0-11 from Sarsfields. Dunne will miss the opening stages of the Munster championship.
St. Anne’s completed a rare double when they added the Wexford hurling title to the football title with thrilling 2-12 to 2-10 succcess over Oulart-The-Ballagh at Bellefield.
In football, Na Fianna retained the Dublin title with a 2-6 to 1-8 victory over Kilmacud Crokes at Parnell Park, while Fermanagh and Wicklow qualified to meet in the All Ireland B final following victories over Wexford and Louth, respectively.
Meanwhile, All-Ireland club champions Crossmaglen Rangers were shocked by Castleblaney Faughs in the quarterfinal of the Ulster championship. Undefeated in championship fare for almost four years, Crossmaglen were comprehensively defeated by 0-15 to 0-5 by the Monaghan champions.
Munster top French club
Munster continued their outstanding European Cup form with a remarkable 32-29 victory over French side Castres last weekend. Trailing by 20-6 at one stage, last year’s beaten finalists staged a magnificent recovery in Castres to score three tries in the final quarter.
Dominic Crotty, Anthony Hogan and Ronan O’Gara all crossed to stun the French club, who are captained by Ireland international Jeremy Davidson.
O’Gara also kicked five penalties and a conversion for a personal tally of 22 points.
This latest victory means that Munster are the only team in Pool 4 with a 100 percent record and another win over Bath in Limerick on Saturday would put Ireland’s champion province on track for the quarterfinals.
Leinster, meanwhile, recovered from an opening defeat by Edinbugh to impressively see off the challenge of French Cup winners, Biarritz, at Donnybrook. Shane Horgan scored two tries as Leinster ran out victors by 35-9.
The news wasn’t quite so good for Ulster, who were overwhelmed by Saracens in the final quarter. Leading early in the second half, Ulster looked to be in with a great chance, but Saracens ran in five tries in the closing stages to come through by 55-25.
Meanwhile, there was a record defeat for hapless Connacht, who were hammered 45-0 by Neath in the European Shield competition.
A jaded Sonia O’Sullivan was well beaten by England’s Paula Radcliffe in a 5-mile road race in Loughrea, Co. Galway, last weekend. Radcliffe broke clear of Ireland’s Olympic silver medalist inside the opening mile, and won in 25 minutes and 4 seconds to O’Sullivan’s 27:12.
"That was clearly a case of one race too many," O’Sullivan said later. "You can be as fit as anyone, but you can’t get yourself up for so many races."
Dave Guiney, the sports journalist, writer, and former Olympian, died in Dublin last weekend. Originally from Kanturk, Co. Cork, Guiney represented Ireland in the shot putt at the 1948 Olympic Games in London before moving on to a distinguished career in newspapers.