Offaly boss backs two-tier Leinster

Offaly football manager Emmet McDonnell has called for a two-tier format to resolve the Leinster championship’s lopsided nature.

Dublin have ruled the province with an iron fist since 2005, amassing eight titles in nine years, and given the ever-expanding gap to counties further down the ladder, McDonnell says a two-tier Leinster championship must now be considered.

“A lot of people, if you ask that question, will get righteous and start saying that we shouldn’t be playing second tier or third tier,” he said.

“If you look at any club championship in any county there is junior, intermediate and senior. Hurling has already gone down that route. Gaelic football hasn’t gone that way, but maybe it is a road that will be looked at soon enough.”

Gaelic Players Association chief executive Dessie Farrell and Mayo footballer Aidan O’Shea have recently suggested that some of the weaker counties may have to amalgamate to keep pace. McDonnell, however, sees the merging of counties as far too contentious an issue to receive the green light.

“I remember I was in the dressing room last year, and someone was writing about Laois and Offaly joining. That didn’t go down well. More so the different tiers than combining. That might be the way forward.”

Meanwhile, Offaly secretary Tommy Byrne insists the county have top-class floodlit facilities for their inter-county teams.

Byrne was responding to revelations this week by hurling manager Brian Whelahan that his side was forced to train in Tipperary earlier this season due to a lack of suitable venues in their native county.

Whelahan also noted that McDonnell’s footballers had to utilise facilities in Westmeath for the same reasons. However Byrne insisted adverse weather conditions were the cause of the issue, not a shortage of floodlit pitches.

The secretary said the Offaly hurlers trained in Ballingarry in Tipperary on just three occasions as St Rynaghs’ pitch was under lock and key.

“We have exceptionally good training facilities in Banagher, but in January of this year there was hardly any normal pitch available,” he noted.

“St Rynagh’s do have floodlights, but the period Brian is referring to was during the winter when grass pitches were unplayable and we don’t have an all-weather pitch. There are six floodlit pitches and the demand on them in bad weather is serious. On top of that, no club would be keen to let a team in during the winter to cut up their pitch. When you get a year as wet as this year, if you haven’t an artificial pitch, you are always going to have problems. That is not the way every year. Other years we were able to manage without it. It is an issue when you have really bad weather. In the past, we have had other counties seeking our training bases.”

Byrne revealed a group of five officials has been charged with establishing an all-weather pitch to cater for the county teams.

Indeed, the Offaly minor footballers were forced to concede home advantage for two Leinster league fixtures this spring due to the absence of an artificial surface.

“The upgrade of facilities is being looked at,” continued Byrne. “We’d like to have an artificial pitch, but everything is subject to finances.”

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