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Why The GAA's Current Plan For A 'B' Championship Is A Waste Of Time

Why The GAA's Current Plan For A 'B' Championship Is A Waste Of Time
Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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Last year's televised game between Dublin and Longford was regarded in many circles as a watershed moment. The consensus was that here was the game which discredited once and for all the notion that Longford should be playing Dublin in the championship.

The qualifier system, which had served the championship well for fifteen years, had gone stale. It no longer suited a game in which the elite had pulled away so decisively from the rest.

For a time last summer, barely a week went by when a columnist or an ex-player wasn't devising their alternative championship format in a national newspaper.

Doing away with provincial system. Making the League the primary competition. Linking the League to the championship...  The phrase 'Champions League format' became the cliche of mass destruction.

The most imaginative and ingenious of these was Jim McGuinness's suggestion that the championship be split into two groups of sixteen from July onwards. The top sixteen would compete for the Sam Maguire, while the bottom sixteen would compete for the proposed 'Paidi O'Sé Cup', a properly promoted and respected second tier competition.

Whether one entered the Sam Maguire or the Paidi O'Sé would be determined by a mixture of League position and provincial championship performances.

Entry to the Sam Maguire would be dependent on whether one would be in Division 1 and Division 2 for the following season (meaning that promotion and relegation clashes in Divisions 2 and 3 would be particularly tasty) but places would be also reserved for the four provincial winners. In the rare event that a provincial champion would emerge from Divisions 3 and 4 that would be tough luck on the team who lost the Division 3 League Final.


It was far superior to the relatively colourless Champions League style model favoured by the GPA.

With all these alternative systems in the air, the GAA have hit upon the rather underwhelming idea of simply reviving the Tommy Murphy Cup, possibly renamed the 'All-Ireland 'B' Championship or Paidi O' Sé Cup (possibly on account of the fact that the name 'Tommy Murphy' means less to modern footballers).

It is a dismayingly unimaginative proposal, one which takes no account of the actual history of the Tommy Murphy Cup, which was abandoned after the 2008 season.


As in 2008, it is proposed that Division 4 counties will simply be diverted away from the qualifiers and into this 'B' Championship. Puzzlingly, the prize for winning this 'B' championship is, lo and behold, re-admission to the qualifiers the following year.

If one was inclined to drop Father Ted references into everyday conversation (a condition which afflicts a large percentage of people in this country) one might at this point bring up that marathon brainstorming session from Speed 3, in which Fr. Beeching, at a loss as to how to help Fr. Dougal, concludes that their best course is to say another Mass.

We seem to recall the Tommy Murphy proving hideously unpopular with those players who were condemned to compete in it once admission became compulsory for Division 4 teams in 2008.


The competition had existed since 2004 but for the first four years admission was voluntary and participation ran in tandem with participation with the All-Ireland qualifiers.

The 'new' system has already been met with a blunt response from its likely competitors. Wickow manager Johnny Magee was more blunt than most. He said it was 'a disgrace' that this was the best they could come up with.

How did the last one go?


Sligo were reigning Connacht champions heading into 2008. Having reached their realistic pinnacle, manager Tommy Breheny stepped down in a blaze of goodwill and was replaced by Tommy Jordan, the man who led Crossmolina to the 2004 All-Ireland club title.

It was a difficult year. Starting from Division 3, they were sucked into a relegation battle. It was an especially bad year to be sucked into a relegation battle.


Though it was little publicised at the time, relegation to Division 4 combined with a failure to reach a provincial final would bar a team from the All-Ireland series.


Sligo faced Longford, also in relegation trouble, in their final League game in Pearse Park under this cloud. Sligo were two points behind their hosts in the table but a two point victory would be enough to overhaul them and condemn Longford to Division 4.

The game was tight but with Sligo unwisely chasing three-pointers and results going against them elsewhere, a late Brian Kavanagh goal gave Longford a 1-13 to 0-13 victory.

Sligo's Kenneth Sweeney, who made his championship debut in the Connacht winning year of 2007, says that they weren't overpowered by a feeling of foreboding after the Longford loss.


There was still the prospect the Mayo game in Castlebar to perk them up. They were the reigning provincial champions after all and Mayo, halfway through John O'Mahony's mysteriously abject second stint in charge, were not yet the footballing superpower they became in the following decade.

We had to play Mayo and if we won that game we wouldn't have gone into the Tommy Murphy so it was after we lost that game that it only dawned on us that we were in this competition. You wouldn't have been thinking about that. It might have been in the back of your mind but your whole focus would have been on beating Mayo.

It didn't really sink home I'd say with a lot of players until we lost to Mayo...

Sligo weren't as primed as they had been in '07 and were spanked in Castlebar, losing heavily on a scoreline of 3-11 to 0-7. In the eyes of many of their more high-profile, ambitious players, Sligo's season ended there and then.


In 2001, Sligo had lost to Mayo in the Connacht championship before sinking Kildare in the qualifiers. In 2002, they defeated the following year's All-Ireland champions Tyrone in the qualifiers.

In 2008, by contrast, they were dispatched to the backwater of the Tommy Murphy Cup. They drew London who they had hammered earlier that summer - meaning that Sligo are one of the only counties to have travelled to Ruislip twice in the one championship.

This time around they were shorn of their most senior players. Several, including Eamonn O'Hara, decided they had better things to be doing than playing in the Tommy Murphy Cup.

Sweeney recalls the sense of apathy that pervaded the squad ahead of the London game.

A lot of players were disappointed the GAA had a secondary competition. I was young enough on the panel. I remember I played it but I knew a few players didn't play it.

Eamonn O'Hara and Charlie (Harrison) didn't play it. I'm not sure about a few others but I know there was discontent with a few players over it. They weren't interested in it.

Whereas they racked up a sixteen point victory in May, a depleted Sligo side were beaten by London by five points in Ruislip - albeit after extra-time. Tommy Jordan's spell as Sligo manager came to an end and is now practically forgotten.

The competition was adjudged a failure and was dumped following the 2008 season. The 2009 championship would see a grateful return to the 2007 championship format. And not before time.

If it had kept going, I honestly think players would have lost interest. I know myself I would have stopped playing county football because under no circumstances would I want to be regarded as a second tier county player.

The Tommy Murphy Cup final functioned as the curtain raiser to a pair of Round 4 qualifier games. The opening game of a Croke Park triple header, it was played out in front of an echoey Croke Park. The shouts of the players on the pitch were audible to those who watched the highlights on the Sunday Game the following day. Throw-in was shortly after midday. 


It was a reasonably good game. Antrim beat Wicklow by three points in a high scoring affair. Sweeney reckons Antrim lads wouldn't be inclined to boast about the achievement.

If you're talking to Antrim players now they wouldn't be paying any heed to it. They wouldn't be throwing it on the CV.

The Antrim players appeared to enjoy gambolling around Croke Park with a bit of silverware. But regardless of those memories, there is no desire in the county for the competitions revival.

The current manager Frank Fitzgibbon is dead against the proposal and chairman Collie Donnolly sounded hostile when talking to Declan Bogue in the Belfast Telegraph.

It was great for any footballer to play in Croke Park and win something. But I just think the competition itself lost its way and lost its status. I don't know if Antrim would have the appetite for that kind of thing again.

For his part, Sweeney is not only against this proposal but all formats which condemn smaller counties to a secondary competition.

I think it's a bad idea honestly, from talking to a few players, they would be of the same opinion. The weaker counties put in just as much effort as the top teams so I would definitely not be in favour of a secondary competition. I think it's a very bad idea. I think it'll deter players in the so-called weaker counties from playing because they won't see them on a level par with the elites.

That's the way I'd look at it and from taking to other players in the Sligo panel, they'd be of the very same opinion - and I know it doesn't affect us - but I just know counties like Waterford, Carlow and Leitrim would always put in as much effort as any other county.

Read more: Some Of The Most Famous British Born Gaelic Footballers




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