Micheál Quirke: We need to give weaker counties a real sense of purpose

It’s the start of summer again, and it feels distinctly like we’ve all been here before, at this very point, it’s more like déjà vu than just another year.

Micheál Quirke: We need to give weaker counties a real sense of purpose

Similar to that movie “Groundhog Day”, where Bill Murray’s character was stuck in a repetitive loop, tasked with waking every morning and reliving the exact same events over and over again.

Murray had to try and find a solution — a way out to save himself from the madness of having the same conversations with the same people about the same subject every single day.

The inequality that exists within the senior football championship is our very own Groundhog Day.

The same idle talk, the same suggestions, but nothing ever seems to change.

Take Longford last weekend. It was impossible not to feel sorry for them, conceding 1-5 without a reply after eight minutes. All I kept thinking as I watched through my fingers was; these lads have been training since October for this. Okay, they got promoted in the national league, and they beat Offaly in the first round, but they get a 27-point tanking in Croke Park on national television, and head into the qualifiers with zero chance of winning the competition. So what’s the point? Why are they playing in a competition they can never win or achieve success in? Would you do the national lottery every week if the slogan read: “if you’re in, you CAN’T win”.

We owe the Longfords of the GAA world something better than that.

Now, the championship structure has serious flaws admittedly. But before abdicating Longford of all responsibility, I thought it was ferociously naïve and unfair of Jack Sheehy and his management team to send his players into Croke Park so devoid of any semblance of a defensive game plan. I mean, if Kerry, Cork, Donegal or any top team were playing Dublin next weekend, they would play with some form of defensive screen to provide a degree of protection for their defenders.

Longford inexplicably, decided they would go out and die on their shields — mano a mano. Such is the potency of the Dublin attack, playing man to man defence is tantamount to sending players into a gunfight wielding little more than a plastic spoon.

I believe Jack Sheehy did his players a great disservice by not providing them with a defensive structure in training to take into this game. It could have enabled them to at least have kept the score in the realm of respectability.

I’ve read and listened to suggestions about how the championship can be restructured to give a more meaningful competition to all counties, but none, in my opinion is better than that of former uachtaráin Sean Kelly back in 2012.

His basic premise was to run off the provincial championships as they are, insofar as the provincial councils decide how best to run their competitions. Upon their conclusion, two separate championships begin; one for the Sam Maguire, one for the Tommy Murphy Cup. Sixteen teams would battle for Sam Maguire, the rest competing in the second tier of championship football.

For the first year, the 16 teams would be made up of the eight provincial finalists, along with another eight selected on their finishing position in the national league. After year one, the finalists of the Tommy Murphy Cup would be promoted to the Sam Maguire competition and six teams would be selected according to their finishing position in the national league.

I believe Sean Kelly’s proposal is one that ticks a lot of boxes. As a former player, I would hate to see the abolition of the provincial finals. A Munster final against Cork or Limerick in recent years, have always been special days for Kerry, and the atmosphere of a packed Fitzgerald Stadium with silverware on offer is an occasion I would vehemently oppose being scrapped.

So too, would the provincial councils, who depend on the money that comes from big match-ups to fund staff, clubs, initiatives and facilities within each province. This suggestion keeps them sweet, while also crucially providing a viable alternative to counties who currently find themselves unable to realistically compete for Sam Maguire. Is it perfect? No, absolutely not. There is no magic wand solution. Dublin can still hammer Longford in this structure, but it would give Longford somewhere meaningful to go after, unlike what we have now. It would provide them and others with a level where they could potentially achieve success.

In Munster, Tipperary’s football revolution continued a pace, and they fired a real warning shot across the bows of the plane being boarded by the Kerry boys, bound for a warm weather training camp in the Amendoeira Golf Resort in the Algarve. A 22-point winning margin by Tipp will do much to sharpen the minds of the All-Ireland champions under the Portugal sun.

This is the latest time of the year that Kerry have ever gone on a warm weather camp, only two weeks before their opening championship appearance. I’m sure it will be a very different camp to normal, where previously there was always a big emphasis on physical conditioning with three sessions a day — running in the morning, football in the afternoon, and gym work in the evening. Not quite the normal sun holiday.

Portugal will be less about the physical and more about honing aspects of teamwork and strategy by playing ball.

When we first started going on these camps, we would always train for four and a half days out of the five. The last evening would be reserved for ‘bonding’. We would all go into the marina for a meal and a few drinks together. The likes of Figo’s bar and the Irish cabin were always genial hosts to a gang of weary looking, red-faced Kerry lads. Unfortunately for the current crop, thanks to the recommendations of modern sports science, that final night’s bonding has transformed into a far more civilised par 3 golf competition back at the resort, followed by a prizegiving ceremony and an early night.

Ours was definitely a better night out, but that was a time when Tipperary posed no real threat.

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