Ahead of Central Council’s vote tomorrow on whether to propose a motion to change the competition, Kelly has argued again for the introduction of a second-tier All-Ireland, as he proposed in this newspaper almost four years ago.
While retaining the provincial championships, Kelly calls for 16 teams, comprising the eight provincial finalists and the other eight based on their league standings, to then enter a knock-out open draw All-Ireland senior championship. Based on an identical structure, the other 16 compete for an intermediate title. After year one, the previous year’s intermediate finalists qualify for the senior championship along with the six best league finishers who haven’t reached their provincial final.
Among three All-Ireland SFC models, the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) have shortlisted a second-tier competition similar to the defunct Tommy Murphy Cup whereby, following the provincial championships, the eight Division 4 teams compete to either qualify for that year’s qualifiers or the following season’s.
There is strong opposition among weaker counties to that proposal. Last weekend, Clare manager Colm Collins said a secondary competition would only be meaningful if 16 teams were involved.
GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail has refused to rule out any of the original 18 proposals, of which Kelly’s was one, but it would be a surprise if Central Council, should they decide to endorse a new championship model to put to Congress, choose any other than the three listed by the CCCC.
Kelly said: “I would have preferred if there was a proposal and it had the weight of management and Central Council behind it. They could have said, ‘We’ll have this for three or four years and we’ll do a review after that time’. That’s obviously not the way it is and you have to accept that but I don’t like the expression ‘B championship’.
“We have senior, intermediate, and junior grades with our clubs and it should be something similar. You would have a second group of 16 teams who don’t make the top grade but have an opportunity to earn their way into it.
“There is talk of how something like the Tommy Murphy Cup for Division 4 counties could be coming back and some counties would get the sense they are being excluded. With 16 teams and providing it’s not treated like a ‘B’ championship and is promoted properly, it be can be a real competition.”
Promotion and profile is of paramount importance to any second-tier championship succeeding, stresses Kelly. “Whether the final is played on All-Ireland final day or before one of the semi-finals, you’d find counties quite happy to have that platform of playing in front of a good crowd and on live TV. If that’s not going to happen, it will be useless.
“The Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard, and Lory Meagher Cups are worthwhile in hurling but they’re played on Saturdays in front of an empty stadium. A crowd makes a big difference. An intermediate competition in inter-county football will only last for as long as there is an incentive there.
“That way you can convince people that it is in their best interests to compete in it. They can still play in their provincial championship and qualify for the senior All-Ireland that way, which has been the route every county has had for over 100 years. But should they fail to do that, a 16-team competition is a reasonable way of making progress.”
Kelly said: “When Ger Loughnane, Nicky English, and Liam Griffin put forward the idea of the Christy Ring Cup they were saying it was a ladder to progress. There is no ladder in Gaelic football. If there is a ladder in Gaelic football, you can only go down it.
“The scoring gaps are growing to enormous, embarrassing sizes and it’s led to disillusionment. But giving these counties a prestige competition would make a big difference.”