B championship proposal must include Croke Park reward, argues Skelly

Any “B” championship must carry the incentive of its decider being staged as the curtain-raiser to the All-Ireland final, says former Leinster chairman Martin Skelly.

B championship proposal must include Croke Park reward, argues Skelly

Longford native Skelly watched on in anguish as Dublin drubbed his county by 26 points in Sunday’s provincial quarter-final. In principle, he is in support of a format similar to that put forward by former GAA president Sean Kelly three years ago, which would split the All-Ireland SFC into two straight knockout competitions after teams’ provincial championship interests have ended.

Kelly outlined that the top two teams in the “B” competition would qualify for the following year’s Sam Maguire Cup. Skelly is adamant such a final would have to be staged on football’s biggest day in Croke Park in September.

“The culmination of a “B” championship would have to be an “A” setting. Only then would we would be doing something meaningful for the second tier counties. What better occasion than All-Ireland final day for players from “B” counties. Any of us from a county like Longford or Leitrim, to be part and parcel of that day would be huge. I’m not saying doing away with the minor. If it means having to have three games on the one day - 12pm, 2pm and 4pm throw-ins - then so be it.

“But the “B” final would have to be the curtain-raiser. I think then you would have no problem in motivating counties to participate in that competition and it would be a really meaningful prize for one to look back on his career and say ‘I played on All-Ireland final day’.

“In hurling, the Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cups are all meaningful titles to the players involved but if we are really serious about a “B” All-Ireland in football then we have to give it the status that it deserves. A lot of these “B” counties are solely football counties and it would have to have that carrot.”

From speaking to other counties similar to Longford, Skelly is convinced there is more of an appetite for a “B” championship than the Tommy Murphy Cup which was axed in 2008.

“What killed the Tommy Murphy Cup the last time was the Saturday afternoon setting. Sean Kelly’s philosophy on it would have been to have it as, at a minimum, a curtain-raiser to an All-Ireland semi-final. That never got out of the traps but that was the original hope.

“The other thing that killed it was you had teams competing after you were beaten in both your province and the qualifiers. It was third chance saloon and after two beatings counties had the white flag up. It was a dent in their pride as such by even asking them to consider. I think there is a better grasp of reality now as teams become more professional in their approach and the stronger teams look to be getting stronger and widening the gap between, I suppose, “A” standard and “B” standard teams.”

Skelly can’t see the provincial championships going away any time soon. “Some of them are quite useful and it’s just unfortunate in Leinster that Dublin have become so dominant.” He envisages the “A” and “B” All-Irelands would follow the provincial competitions. “You would have to come up with some formula so that some Division 3 teams like Kildare now who have histories of winning All-Irelands wouldn’t go into the competition and treat other counties like cannon fodder.”

As for his own Longford, Skelly insists Sunday’s defeat was a body blow but not a fatal one. “It’s not a new phenomenon for Longford to get a drubbing. Yesterday (Sunday) didn’t surpass the 1960 60-minute game 10-30 to 3-8 drubbing from Dublin. Every seven or eight years, we’ve had such a defeat but Longford will dust themselves down and pick themselves up.

“But if there was to be a real championship to focus their attentions on after losing yesterday... it’s going to be very difficult for them to go into the qualifiers as it will be for Waterford and Antrim. People might say ‘what would this do to club fixtures’ but we can work around all of those things if there is sufficient goodwill and county boards really take control of affairs.”

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