Opinion: Tiered structure not the answer

Competitive imbalances at both club and inter-county levels have always been there.

Opinion: Tiered structure not the answer

Competitive imbalances at both club and inter-county levels have always been there.

From the earlier days of the Association, right up to the present, different teams go through time-periods, some more elongated than others, of dominating a particular competition.

And more so than ever before, it seems to be an issue for GAA people. Followers of both codes want hurling and football to be more competitive. That, of course, is completely understandable as the majority of supporters want to witness more exciting fare regularly.

And if it is not one competition that people have an issue with, it’s another, be it locally or nationally.

For examples, in Cork, there are a huge number of voices bemoaning the fact Imokilly are on course to win a third Cork SHC title in a row while the most obvious sticking point for many, nationally is Dublin’s dominance of the All-Ireland SFC.

For the record, I find it tiresome that people repetitively moan about the likes of Imokilly and Dublin. Would these people, or even the majority of them, still complain if it was their club or division or county representatives enjoying similarly fruitful spells?

What you most likely would have then is that others, not connected with that club or division or county, giving out about that particular team’s consistent brilliance. It’s total hypocrisy.

The reality is, no team’s dominance lasts forever. Due to this fact, is it not acceptable then to appreciate the repeated excellence of a team rather than shout from the rooftops about how their dominance is ‘hurting’ the competition they have tamed in a given timeframe?

Inevitably then, during time-periods in which one team is farming a particular competition, you get intermittent referrals to the need of ‘tiered structures’ to redress imbalances.

Speaking last Sunday on RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday Sport, former Meath manager Mick O’Dowd said: "Most people in a GAA club throughout the country are very familiar with a tiered system, and their team being in a championship based upon ability.

Junior, intermediate, senior; that works throughout the country in 32 counties. For me, it's very surprising that it doesn't appear in the inter-county championship as well.

"For me, I would start to look at ways of merging the championship and the league into a tiered system. That might allow for a later start to the season.

"To allow inter-county players spend more time at the beginning of the year with their clubs. To get colleges out of the way, to get Under-20 competitions out of the way. This year, that competition was played in June, when there's a lot of 19-year-olds doing the Leaving Cert.

Former Meath manager Mick O’Dowd
Former Meath manager Mick O’Dowd

"So that hasn't really worked out that well."

Discussing his point in more specific detail, referring to men’s senior championship inter-county football, which is, of course, not tiered, O’Dowd added: "The one thing that benefited Meath this year is that they got eight games, four in Leinster, a qualifier, and three in the Super 8s.

"They finished their season in the beginning of August with eight games, and Dublin finished theirs a few weeks later with nine, the champions.

"The point is that every player that started at the beginning of the season preparing in those two squads got a similar amount of games. Take Fermanagh, they played the end of May, two weeks later they played Monaghan (in the qualifiers), then they were gone.

Three months before the All-Ireland was over, they were out of it. You never bridge that gap over numerous years if you're gone three months (early).

Nobody can argue with O’Dowd’s assertion that it is good that players get more matches.

However, deep down, it is not just more games players want, especially at senior inter-county level.

At the highest grades, be it on the club or inter-county scenes, it is success players really, truly crave.

No young person dreams of playing an extra three matches a summer, they dream of the ultimate glories, whether they are honing their skills in Cork or Dublin or Leitrim, it is Celtic Crosses they desire.

Therefore, would players reflect on their careers, having competed in, say, ‘Tier Four’ of a championship structure, and be any more satisfied than if they were fruitlessly challenging for the Sam Maguire, year-on-year?

Even if they won their respective tier and dabbled in ‘Tier Three’ for a while after that, I still have my doubts they would feel more fulfilled than if their summers ended after the first round of the All-Ireland qualifiers in the primary competition.

So, implementing tiered structures is not necessarily the answer to these competitive imbalances.

The unfortunate reality is that there is probably no satisfactory answer.

After all, even if a team moves up through the structure, they will still, eventually, hit a brick wall because competing in a tiered environment is not going to change the fact they are simply not good enough to win the titles that really matter.

I would imagine, that if you put it to the men’s senior inter-county players that they could either play matches in a tiered structure for the summer or just enjoy their free time after bowing out of the race for Sam Maguire, that a serious number of them would gladly vote for the latter option.

I mean, let’s be quite frank here, who grows up fantasising about winning some poxy second-, third-, or fourth-tier trophy, in any sport?

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