I was very pleased with the outcome of the GAA Special Congress in the splendid facilities at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Two of the initiatives we introduced when I was Uachtarán CLG 15 years ago were back in fashion and enshrined in rule.
The sin-bin and a second-tier inter-county football championship got the overwhelming support of GAA delegates from all over the globe. The idea behind the Tommy Murphy Cup was to give the ‘weaker counties’ a realistic chance of aspiring to win an inter-county championship, but also to give them days in the sun through playing the final in Croke Park, and for the final to be televised live.
This was done for a few years before being shelved in 2008. We reflected on this and then (four or five years ago) came up with a proposed revision of the Tommy Murphy Cup, and how a second-tier championship might look and be successful.
These ideas were then published in this newspaper with GAA luminaries such as Joe Brolly, Dara Ó Cinnéide, and Jim McGuinness consistently advocating this formula since. The motion to introduce asecond-tier championship last Saturday was more or less what was proposed in the Examiner five years ago.
All counties can still play in the All-Ireland ‘A’ Championship through competing in the provincial championships, and then the second tier will be based on counties’ status in that year’s league. That was a crucial amendment made by Tipperary. It means that counties won’t be graded in 2020 on their position right now, but rather on their status and position in next year’s league.
For a county like Cork, who had a bad league, but a great Championship this year (also winning minor and U20 All-Irelands), the Tipperary motion means that if they get promotion in the league next year, they will be where they rightly belong — in the Sam Maguire Cup.
Now that the GAA has endorsed the second-tier championship, it must make it work. Proper promotion and generous rewards for the counties involved could do this. For a start, as was the case in the Tommy Murphy, Christy Ring, and Nick Rackard Cups when first introduced, the final must be played as a curtain-raiser to an All-Ireland semi-final and televised live.
The GAA will have to insist on live TV and not leave it up to the benevolence of RTÉ or Sky to do so. Some say the two All-Ireland finals should be played on the same day. Don’t dream of it — tickets for All-Ireland finals are hard enough to come by as it is without trying to meet demand for four senior teams on the one day.
I can see a massive demand for tickets for the Tier Two final when the competition beds in and is given the status it deserves and needs. Another notion that must be avoided is the idea that now that we have a Tier Two, we should have three or four tiers to cater for the gulf in standards between the counties. Advocates of this theory point to hurling, where we have five tiers. My view on this is that five is too many.
The more tiers, the less promotion, the less media coverage etc. Hurling is an example of this — when the Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard Cups were first introduced, they were played as curtain-raisers to the All-Ireland semi-finals and televised live.
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Then the Lory Meagher Cup was added, and now the Joe McDonagh Cup, but as you only have two All-Ireland semi-finals, playing finals in conjunction with an All-Ireland hurling semi-final was shelved (perhaps conveniently, as there was resistance to them getting such prominence from some quarters).
So, let’s stick to two tiers in football and, with a concerted effort all around, be confident that Tier Two will be a major success. The added publicity and success for any T2 counties should make it easier for them to attract sponsorship and motivate young players to play for their county — at least now they won’t be perennial fodder for the big teams.
Getting a drubbing in anything is not good for anybody. Too many counties have been getting “drubbings” in the All-Ireland Championship for far too long. Now at least they can realistically aspire to playing and winning a major final in Croke Park. And there will be 30 extra players per year who will be proud possessors of an All-Ireland medal — the ultimate symbol of success in the GAA.