Debate over the current championship format resurfaced this week as the race for Sam Maguire kicks off in earnest, former Dublin footballer Ciarán Whelan yesterday labelling the present structure “stale”.
Ward says several questions surround proposals to scrap the qualifiers in favour of a two-tier inter-county championship.
Last year, Leitrim secretary Diarmuid Sweeney revealed the county were considering dropping down to junior level at the end of last summer if a B championship was not forthcoming. Connacht’s minnows bowed out of the All-Ireland series off the back of a 4-18 to 0-9 trouncing to Down.
That Páirc Esler bashing represented their second substantial beating in successive summers, having fallen to Armagh 8-13 to 0-10 in the 2013 qualifiers.
Such hammerings are difficult to stomach, accepts Ward, but it hasn’t waned the appetite of the Leitrim footballer to compete at the top level.
“It is very important that we hold onto what is so exciting about the GAA championship in this country. The championship is a very exciting time, it is a very exciting time for a player. They give up their lives and lifestyles for it,” he said.
“I would admit that it is difficult to come up against tougher opposition, opposition who are looking to figure in the last eight or, indeed, the last four of the All-Ireland series.
“If you were to ask me do Galway hold the ambition of making at least the last eight in the All-Ireland series before they take us on in the Connacht championship, I would say definitely, yes. Is it any different then to when you meet these big teams in the qualifiers?”
Dismissed in all quarters ahead of their Connacht championship against Galway at Carrick-on-Shannon on Sunday, Ward believes victory is achievable.
“Going out onto any field you have to have the ambition of winning, no matter how results have gone in the past. We know if we deliver a performance and do what we do well then we have a chance of winning.”
Whelan says the destination of the JJ Nestor Cup is not a given, but still maintains a two-tier championship is required.
“I do think the structures have gone stale. We need a two-tier championship and a brave approach. But it’s like turkeys voting for Christmas when you have the four provincials that run independently so it’s very difficult politically,” he told RTÉ.
“The championship really only kicks off from August onwards and I really think that’s something we radically need to look at.”
Advocating a 13-a-side game, he added: “That creates more space and we need more space on the pitch. That day of a forward getting the ball in space, taking on his man and slotting the ball into the corner is nearly gone. It’s the one thing we could try out to see does it open out the game.”