Were you anxiously sitting by your radio last Saturday afternoon, brimming with anticipation to see what the draw for the 2024 provincial football championships brought?

Or, were you busy doing other things, saw news of the draw later that evening and shrugged your shoulders about something that’s still six months away? It’s my job to report on GAA, and I’m not ashamed to say that I fell firmly into the latter camp.

Given the way that the championship is now structured, the provincial championships have lost some of their lustre – the Ulster championship is still probably the exception in that regard – but that’s not the main reason why the draws should be later.

Historically, when the club and inter-county seasons were intertwined, having the opening fixtures nailed down at least gave county boards the chance to arrange the first round or two of their championships.

With the split season, that consideration has been excised and so we know when the provincial championships are taking place, lessening the need to know the exact fixtures.

By delaying the draw until February or March, you would create some bit of excitement that is clearly absent right now.

There may be some logistical reasons as to why it’s better to have so much advance notice but, given that the fixtures for the All-Ireland series and Tailteann Cup are arranged in a short time frame after those draws, they are hardly insurmountable objects.

Of course, the make-up of the provinces is a matter for debate. The teams reaching the provincial finals are guaranteed their spots in the 16-team All-Ireland and for Clare, that means beating Tipperary or Waterford; for Cavan, it equates to beating Division 1 team Monaghan in the Ulster quarter-final, then Tyrone and then Down or Antrim.

Then again, the Ulster counties voted in favour of keeping the provincial structures and it’s hard to blame them as it is so far ahead of the rest in terms of competitiveness. The flipside is that it could be counter-productive in terms of the All-Ireland. CL

Irish success in UEFA Women’s Nations League

Something I have found over the course of a decade and a half of work as a journalist is that the best way to find out exactly how many people read your work is to make a big honking mistake. They’ll all see that.

Bad news always grabs more attention, which is why we’re not hearing as much about the Republic of Ireland women’s national team since the commencement of the UEFA Women’s Nations League.

Last month the team – under the interim management of Eileen Gleeson – enjoyed wins at home to Northern Ireland and away to Hungary and over the next few days they will face Albania twice.

Ireland are ranked 24th in the world with Albania 72nd, and if they can make it four wins from four they could secure the top spot in the group with two matches to play, ensuring promotion to the top tier for the next running of the Nations League.

Given the pressure on the team to perform in the wake of Vera Pauw’s departure – whatever the rights and wrongs of that – this would be a very strong response and show that the appearance at the World Cup was not just a lonesome peak, but instead part of a sustained improvement.

The travails of the Ireland women’s rugby team show that success can never be taken for granted, that there must be a plan for the future to ensure that more can follow.

A good Nations League showing would underline the fact that Ireland are on an upward curve.

Growing the game?

I can’t have been the only one with a sense of regret watching New Zealand dismantle Argentina in last Friday night’s Rugby World Cup semi-final.

The 44-6 scoreline was proof that, had the draw been made sometime less than three years before the competition began, Ireland would have had a more favourable quarter-final opponent than the All Blacks. Still, the record books will show that Argentina – and England, who almost held out against South Africa – made the semi-finals while Ireland didn’t.

The bottom line is that Saturday night’s final will be contested by the countries that have won the last four competitions, two each, with the winners getting the added bonus of a clear lead at the top of the roll of honour.

While one could conceivably argue against them being the two best teams at the World Cup, given that France beat New Zealand and Ireland overcame the Springboks, they won when it mattered and nobody else would be a match for them.

It should be an absorbing and attritional game but it’s a bit boring, isn’t it? It’s a phrase that’s a bit cringeworthy but, in terms of ‘growing the game’, a different winner would have been welcome, especially for northern hemisphere rugby.

Still, nothing can be done about that only for the pretenders to work towards four years’ time in Australia and do their talking on the pitch.