Jim McGuinness said, in an article in the Irish Times last week, that the one-sided games in the previous weekend made him fear for the game. He said "the gap between the elite counties and the rest is becoming a chasm. This is blatantly obvious now, and the GAA has to address the issue urgently". His suggestions to improve the situation centre around better coaching, paid for by more money from the GAA to "poorer" counties. An alternative proposal is Joe Brolly's suggestion of a two-tier Championship to ensure closer games is one proposed solution.
What the arguments are based on is the classic idea of competitive balance. There are growing concerns that more games at the latter end of the Championship are so imbalanced that there is no uncertainty in the outcome. Jim McGuinness worries that "if what happened last weekend at Croke Park happens for the next five years in a row, then the 60,000 people who turned up will become 30,000 and it will dwindle from there. Who wants to see that?".
Gaelic games are unusual in that they place greater importance on the knock-out Championship than the league tournament. In some ways the league is considered as a form of preparation for the Championship. Attendances at Championship games far exceeds attendances at league matches - even league play-offs and finals. A 'back-door' element was introduced to avoid the situation for decades where half of the counties would have one Championship game every year. Now counties are guaranteed a minimum of two - which is still a difficult situation for counties that train and prepare over the winter and spring. It also mitigates against team development where a county will find it difficult to progress on the basis of two matches at Championship level in a year.
The importance of the Championship also makes it difficult to measure competitive balance in Gaelic games. The structure of the Championships - with four provincial competitions leading into an All-Ireland series - also makes it difficult to determine how much (im)balance there may be nationally. Also, a knock-out tournament may at times through up mismatches simply because of the teams drawn against each other and how those teams have fared in previous rounds' draws. This is important in the current debate because very often the availability heuristic hinders good decision-making. This means we tend to rely on immediate examples and our opinions are more heavily weighted toward more recent information. In the Sunday Independent, Eamonn Sweeney was getting at just this notion (perhaps more succinctly than me) when he referred to the idea of a two-tier championship and worries about imbalance as this year's "Big Stupid GAA Idea".
So, is there any evidence, apart from a couple of games in which Dublin and Kerry rack up huge wins? The table below shows the number of counties that have appeared at different stages in the Championship since 2004. It also shows a breakdown between 2004 and 2009 (6 seasons) and 2010 and 2015 (6 seasons) - while the winners and finalists aren't known at this stage we do know that there won't be a new team reaching those milestones.
Looking at the numbers in general there would appear to be some evidence of greater imbalance as the number of counties reaching a semi-final has declined. However, it would seem that these counties may be more competitive as the number of different finalists and winners has increased.
I can't recall similar calls for two-tier Championships and moves to enhance competitive balance during the mid-2000s when Kerry were dominant. Perhaps the spectre of the most populated county (Dublin) with its potential for commercial success is dominating hearts and minds. If Dublin go on to win this year expect more calls for "something to be done". Otherwise we can wait for nest season's big GAA idea.