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If We Amalagamated Counties, What Would The Championship Look Like?

If We Amalagamated Counties, What Would The Championship Look Like?
By Conor Neville
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After a season in which many innovative proposals were floated on the topic of championship reform, the GAA have hit upon the remarkably unimaginative idea of simply re-establishing the Tommy Murphy Cup.

Players from those 'minnow counties' are deeply hostile to the idea and some are opposed to any form of secondary competition.

However, the status quo looks increasingly untenable. The elite have pulled decisively away from the rest and last year's championship was blighted by multiple turkey shoots.

A couple of years back, Aidan O'Shea proclaimed it inevitable that counties would seek to amalgamate in 'twenty or thirty years time' in the hope of building a competitive outfit.

Yesterday, at a press day publicising his participation in AIB's The Toughest Trade programme, he re-iterated his feeling on the matter.

I don't think it's (amalgamating counties) that outlandish really. I see things about Division 4 teams going into a 'B' championship. I think teams would like to take part in a competition that they have a chance of winning. And maybe I'm wrong but if there was amalgamation of a county or two then they might have an opportunity of winning. I think that's better than taking part in a competition when you know you're not going to win it.

I think it makes it more competitive, more marketable, bigger games, and there's less players playing so in it so there's more chance of professionalism.

The present county boundaries were drawn up by civil servants and knights of the realm in Whitehall a few hundred years ago. Why has the GAA shown such loyalty to the work of these guys? Maybe, it's time we re-imagine some of our own counties.

The Kerry system could provide an interesting blueprint here. Smaller parishes - Waterville, Valentia, Cahirciveen - compete in their local regional championship and the intermediate championship.

However, the strongest players from these clubs don't miss out on the senior championship. These teams amalgamate for the purposes of the club championship, producing the divisional side South Kerry.

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South Kerry won their tenth county championship title in 2015.

If smaller counties were to team up for the purposes of the All-Ireland championship, then they could build a competitive entity that could compete for honours. Tribal enmity between neighbouring counties dies hard but the Kerry championship has shown the way.

Not to mention provincial rugby. In the early 1990s, Limerick rugby people were indifferent to the Munster setup, believing that selectors were biased towards Cork players. Ger Earls' paltry tally of Munster caps was a common source of complaint. It's amazing to think what a few years of success can engender. By the mid-noughties, it was impossible to remember a time when the Munster jersey wasn't considered sacred in Limerick.

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There would be resistance at first but were these new entities to thrive, one might find that melting away in all the excitement at seeing the local outfit competing at the business end of the championship.

Naturally, such reforms would be applied to Gaelic football.

Under our plan, eight counties would remain untouched - Dublin, Kerry, Cork, Mayo, Galway, Tyrone, Donegal and Meath.

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Cavan-Fermanagh- Superquinn land

We're informed by Cavan supporters (well, one Cavan supporter) that they regularly taunt the Fermanagh faithful with the chant, 'we've got 39, you've got fuck all!' referring to each county's Ulster championship haul.

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No matter that 38 of Cavan's Ulster titles came before the advent of colour television, this chant strikes one as remarkably reminiscent of the type one would hear in English football grounds.

Either way, these counties would have to make up. In our brave new world, they will be 'all the one' for the purposes of the All-Ireland series.

Longford-Westmeath

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The two counties already form a political constituency although there would have to be a further thaw in relations. Longford people have a formidable reputation for voting for just Longford candidates proving that there is no common cause between these two counties.

Between them, they have mustered just two Leinster championships in their history. Though on the evidence of last year, Westmeath are finally beginning to punch closer to their weight.

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Roscommon/Sligo/Leitrim

It will stick in the Rossies' craw given their much trumpeted status as a Division 1 county.

Historically, they have punched above their weight in Gaelic football terms but, aside from a smash and grab provincial victory in 2010, they have done little in the senior championship in the past fifteen years.

Sligo have been competitive in the 21st century but they have only registered three provincial titles in their history.

Derry/Antrim 

Expect a battle for the centre of power in the county between Derry City and Belfast. At least Liam Bradley - should he get the Antrim job again - won't have to plot against his own sons.

Arguably, Derry's most notorious celebrity also plies his trade in the Antrim county town.

Limerick/Clare/Tipperary 

An entity which would see Declan Browne and John Galvin - the two go-to examples of 'top' players from not-so-top counties - united behind the one banner (Pun not originally intended).

With Tipperary's golden crop of footballers coming along nicely, expect to see this team competing for honours.

Wicklow/Wexford/Carlow/Waterford - (potential name - the Redmondites) 

No disrespect is intended to the other three counties but Wexford might be required to do the heavy lifting if this team were ever to become competitive.

Historically aware commentators might dub this outfit the 'Redmondite county' owing to its fidelity to the Irish parliamentary party in the years following 1916.

We have already noted before how the county of Wicklow contributed nothing to the War of Independence.

Down/Armagh - (potential name = Newry)

At last, the town of Newry will be united in one Gaelic football county. History, if not recent form, suggests that this composite outfit have the potential to be formidable.

Kildare/Laois/Offaly/Kilkenny

Three teams who have been intermittently successful down the generations. Kildare and Offaly have enjoyed periods of great prosperity but also endured some serious down time. All of them are underachieving massively at present.

Kilkenny are an unnecessary appendage.

Monaghan/Louth -(potential name = Mouth)

Two counties with no affinity beyond geographical proximity, these counties would need to strive hard to create a shared identity

Read more: Aidan O'Shea: 'I'm Just So Sick Of Championship Structures. I Didn't Even Read The GPA One'

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