The Sunday Game Can't Agree What To Do With Restructuring The Championship

The Sunday Game Can't Agree What To Do With Restructuring The Championship

In the wake of Westmeath's embarrassing annihilation by Dublin, the argument surrounding the GAA Championship structure reared it's head once again in the immediate aftermath with Colm O'Rourke in particular advocating for "B" Championship to avoid humiliations like this in future.

It turns out The Sunday Game were already planning to have an in depth discussion on the matter last night, with plenty of inter county managers having been interviewed about the potential for a 'B' Championship.

Sligo manager Niall Carew was the strongest of the opposition to the idea:

I wouldn't be in favour of a 'B' Championship because I think it'd lose the romance of what the Championship is all about. Only one team can win it anyway! I think the B Championship is a non-runner. I think people might look at it for the first year and think you can structure it any way you want. Everyone wants to play for the Sam Maguire.

It'd be a disaster going forward. They should listen to players and managers.

There was agreement from the managers of Antrim, Wicklow, and Derry, with Damian Barton calling the idea 'patronising'.


Offaly manager Pat Flanagan made the suggestion that the Championship stays as it is, but a 'B' Championship should be put in place afterwards.

Dennis Connerton led the charge for the changing of the Championship. The Longford manager brought the league standings into it:

I think it's important that players compete in a competition that they feel they can honestly win. I can't remember a Division 3, 4 or even 2 team winning the All-Ireland. We need some change.

Peter Creedon of Laois put forward a structure of four groups of four, with top and bottom two going to respective separate Championships.

All of this led to an interesting debate between Dessie Dolan and Joe Brolly. Dolan's Westmeath were of course obliterated by Dublin, but he placed some of the blame on the National League:

The problem is, this time next year they'll be going in to the 'Super 8's'. That'll separate the gap even further. I've played in all the divisions. You get no coverage in the National League whatsoever in the papers. The attendances? I know of games this year that had a couple of hundred people.

I think Waterford played with something like 80 people at one stage. It's not easy to be a player in Division Three or Four. There's nothing for them.


Dolan also nailed a point about the future generation of GAA starts becoming less and less interested in inter-county football:

I don't think there's any solution to this problem. The Super 8 next year is going to be incredible, but it's gonna widen the gap between Division Three/Four teams and it's gonna magnify the problem even more. It's very difficult to incentifise county football to young people.

I feel personally, there's a realisation from young people in the counties that we mentioned. They're thinking 'I'm not going to play county football. I need to get a job up in Dublin and commute'. The last three or four years, good players are turning their back on country football.

Brolly, while recognising that players are becoming slightly disillusioned with inter county, he thinks there's bigger problems in the GAA:

There's a bigger issue. The county season is far too long. All the things that have never been addressed - those are bigger issues.

It reminds me of the Father Ted sketch where he's trying to explain the difference to Dougal between dreams and reality. 31 points today, it's happening all the time. There's no point in Leitrim being in the same tournament as Mayo, or Carlow being in the same tournament as the Dubs.

The All Ireland winner with Derry then gave his ideal restructure:

We need to apply logic and common sense. If you said to a club cyclist who's a category four club cyclist 'listen, we're going to give you a wild card to the Tour de France' he'd say 'absolutely brilliant'. He probably wouldn't survive it, he'd be destroyed and absolutely exhausted.

That's not how you go about doing this. You apply logic and common sense to created a tiered system. Not a 'B' competition. You call it the Paidi O'Sé. They have the exactly the same respect, the same kudos as the Sam Maguire. The Sean Kelly/Jim McGuinness plan was brilliant. You have four divisions, and you have the incentive of moving up and down through the tiers depending on your performance.

It makes it realistic. Then you could have an All Ireland final day. You'd have the Paidi O'Sé and your Sam Maguire. There'd be All Stars for each. The money that's available for Mayo, Kerry or Dublin etc - that should be exactly available.

The big problem which scarred the Tommy Murphy Cup for a lot of lower teams was the total lack of respect to teams that got to the final. The year I was involved, Wicklow and Antrim got to the final. The game was played at noon ahead of an All Ireland quarter final. The bus wasn't even allowed in the stadium, the lads had to decamp on the street and come in to change in the Juvenile dressing rooms. That scarred a load of the lower division teams.

The tiered system is a litmus test on whether the GAA is serious about participation. At the moment, there's no equality for lower counties.

Expect the debate to rumble on throughout the Championship, and beyond.

SEE ALSO: The Sunday Game Panel Turn On Pat Spillane Over His Diarmuid Connolly Comments

David Kent

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