Kevin O'Brien digests this week's GAA talking points.

1. The GAA should put More emphasis on education

UCC’s dramatic late victory over UUJ in the Sigerson Final capped off a fine weekend for the tournament.

The game seemed destined for extra-time after UUJ completed a seven point comeback when Ronan O’Neill sweetly struck an equaliser from distance. But UCC once again defied the odds when Conor Dorman found himself in space on the 21-yard line and steered the ball over in difficult conditions.

Dorman’s late winner typified the guts and heart of this UCC side which made a mockery of their underdog status for the second time in 24 hours, having been rank outsiders at the outset of the weekend.

After successful conclusion in Queens, it would make sense for the GAA to do more in promoting third level football. They could start out by outlawing this nonsense of inter county managers refusing to release third level players from lining out with their colleges in the pre-season competitions.

It can only be of benefit to young guys linking up with elite footballers from other counties and third level colleges will think twice about handing out scholarships to players if this continues in the coming years.

The financial constraints of receiving a third level of education are enormous, so the GAA would be well advised to better promote scholarships amongst its playing population. Even small grants or funding for books can make a huge difference to a player struggling to get by. The US colleges system is a good example of how its talented athletes also have a strong focus on education and can use their sporting talents to further their studies.

While it wasn’t discussed in the GAA Congress this time out, reducing the Minor grade to U17 will come up in the future and certainly has its merits education wise. Doing so would allow young men and women focus on their exams rather than the minor championship. The Leaving Cert is the one gateway youngsters have to furthering their education and to a brighter future. An U17 championship instead of Minor would allow for more focus on those pressurised exams.

In terms of promoting third level football, more time should be made for these competitions on the calendar. For one, condensing the All-Ireland club championships to a calendar year would make sense. It would certainly serve the players well as the majority of clubs who commonly spend eight weeks training between their provincial final and the All-Ireland semi-finals without playing a meaningful game. This could work by setting a deadline in mid-October for the completion of club championships, which should be feasible – even for the successful counties.

The stop-start nature of the National Leagues also needs to be addressed – why not start the league in March and cut out these unnecessary gaps in between fixtures? It’s hard to see the logic in kicking off the NFL in February with a couple of rounds before a break and the same in March. Players are back training in November for a championship that won’t begin until June in many cases.

Starting the National Leagues in March and reducing the club championships to a calendar year would mean more time for the Sigerson Cup to take centre stage and help the GAA create a stronger focus on education. Just a thought.

2. Levelling of standards in top tier of hurling makes for brilliant viewing

The GAA took plenty of flak for reducing the number of teams in the top division of the National Hurling League to six but they have been fully justified in doing so. The games in Division 1A have been of the highest quality this year and the same is true of the last campaign. There can be no doubt that with the cream of the crop competing against one another on a consistent basis the standards have levelled off and it makes for fantastic viewing.

Two or three years ago Kilkenny and Tipperary looked streets ahead of the chasing pack but in recent times that pack has closed in and perhaps are threatening to overtake both traditional powerhouses. Going into the final round of games last year, there was everything to play for with every team still in contention for a semi-final place.

2014 is similar in that regard with all three winners in the first round of fixtures going down last weekend.

Take Dublin. It’s remarkable to note how sluggish they looked in their opening round trouncing by Galway, but they were anything but tired looking in last Sunday’s comfortable victory Clare. Alan McCrabbe’s scoring return to the starting fifteen helped the Dubs no end and they looked far hungrier than the All-Ireland champions in all areas of the field.

February is of course still classified as ‘early days’ in the grand scheme of things and the pitches remain heavy but it’s pretty clear that there is no margin for error out there in the trenches of the top tier.

Podge Collins represented the Banner’s footballers in Ruislip as they defeated London in Division 4 of the NFL on the same day and it remains to be seen how long Davy Fitzgerald will tolerate his dual role. The All-Star hurler finds himself in an awkward position and as most dual players will tell him, it’s very difficult to combine the two.

Was Collins’ own father, Colm, not manager then it’s highly unlikely the situation would have unfolded as it has, with both sides effectively holding equal rights on the player. How much longer until Davy Fitz puts his foot down and forces the talented forward to make a call on it?

3. Racism ban the biggest plus from congress

The GAA Congress 2014 saw a number of positive outcomes, most notably the decision to award an automatic 12 week ban for players found guilty of racism.

Once again the GAA have shown leadership where they have done so with substance abuse and suicide prevention in the past. A 12 week ban isn’t big enough however, but it’s a start and the move to give referees the go ahead to send off players for using racial language must be applauded.

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @Kevobrien7.