Clare selector Coughlan joins chorus for championship change

Clare manager Colm Collins, left, along with selectors Enda Coughlan and Declan O'Keeffe. Picture: Sportsfile

When the conversation turns to his preferred championship structure, Clare football selector Enda Coughlan quickly shows himself to be at one with the man who drafted him into the county’s backroom team little over a year after he’d hung up his boots.

Clare boss Colm Collins has been consistent on how the All-Ireland SFC should be run off, advocating for substantial and meaningful change long before the Super 8s were brought to life, or GAA president John Horan added pace to the conversation surrounding a second-tier championship.

Do away with the provincial championships and replace them with eight groups of four, is Collins’ solution.

From there, the top two teams in each group go on to compete for Sam Maguire, while the bottom 16 enter a B championship.

Coughlan played under Collins for three years before retiring at the end of 2016, but returned to the Banner setup, in a different capacity, ahead of the 2018 season. He too backs a championship not tied to provincial boundaries.

Coughlan said: “The problem with the championship is repetition — you are playing the same teams each year. In the league, you are playing different teams most weekends as teams drop up and down from one year to the next. And people like that.

“I’d like the idea of the eight groups as Colm has suggested.

“Play the Munster championship a bit earlier in the year and then give the summer over to the eight groups of four and see how that works. At least give everyone a fair and equal chance at the start of summer and see how it goes after that.”

The repetition which the Munster draw has thrown up during Collins’ tenure has been a source of deep frustration for the Banner, particularly at a time when they have a legitimate claim to see themselves as number two in the province. This is the first summer since 2014 where Clare are not being pitted against Limerick at the Munster quarter-final stage, but should they overcome the Déise at Cusack Park, they will meet Kerry for the fifth time in six years in a provincial semi-final.

“Kerry have been the best team in Munster over the last number of years and so they are what you have to aim for. You have to be able to beat these teams and so, hopefully, we will do better than we did in the championship last year. We would have been disappointed with how we went against Kerry last year. We went well against Limerick but played poorly then against Kerry.

“We’re concentrating on Waterford first and we’ll see where that brings us. Throughout the league, there were long periods in every game where we did not score. We’ve got to get that right in the championship if we are to have any hope.”

Having joined the Clare panel in 2004, Coughlan said his most successful days in the saffron and blue were under Collins, including promotion from Division 4 and 3.

Colm got the best players in Clare playing and rowing in behind him. He got a good backroom team and lads have prospered under him. That’s a major thing. The best players want to play. The commitment the lads have given is unbelievable.

"When I started, lads were interested in playing for Clare but we only trained twice a week and had a game at the weekend. Since Colm has come in, the professional approach has meant it has gone to five and six nights a week, as well as lads working on their own outside of training. You can see how Clare football has profited because of all that. 

"This was our third year in Division 2 and we are making strides every year. Hopefully, we will make more strides in the championship.”

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