Leading officials from a host of Division 4 counties have accused GAA hierarchy of attempting to cut adrift football’s “small fish”.
Waterford and Wicklow chairmen Paddy Joe Ryan and Martin Coleman, along with Louth and Wexford managers, Colin Kelly and David Power, are deeply dissatisfied with the Central Council-backed motion that will be voted on at Congress next month.
Under the proposal, Division 4 teams would be denied access to the All-Ireland championship proper unless they reached their respective provincial final. Wexford, relegated from Division 3 last spring, knocked Division 1 side Down out of last year’s championship, but such a meeting would not be possible under the proposed system.
“I think it would be a complete backward step in terms of the development and promotion of Gaelic football in the so-called weaker counties,” said Wexford boss David Power.
“It doesn’t make sense to be ignoring what the players have said they didn’t want. Even as a manager, if you were facing into that situation of your summer being dominated by a mickey mouse competition, it would be hard to motivate yourself.
“Take Longford beating Dublin in the O’Byrne Cup. It might only have been the O’Byrne Cup but that was a great result. We drew with Dublin in the O’Byrne Cup a few weeks ago. The only way you are going to improve is by playing the best teams, not by hiding in a mickey mouse competition.”
Power believes there would be devastating consequences for the basement counties should the motion receive the green light at Congress.
“I would love to know the rationale behind this. If they said Division 3 and 4, fair enough. The only way you are going to promote the game is if each county is on an even keel starting the summer. The likes of Waterford, they are struggling as it is. They would be destroyed if this comes to pass.”
Waterford chairman Paddy Joe Ryan says the proposal will remove the ‘David versus Goliath’ element which has traditionally been central to the GAA summer.
“We beat Cork in the McGrath Cup last year, I know it was only the McGrath Cup, but we got a lift from it. It was good for Waterford football. We went to Salthill in 2013 and Galway only beat us by a point. We pride ourselves on how we perform against the bigger teams.
“We are already playing the other Division 4 teams in the league, we have been playing against each other for years and years. What is to be gained by playing against each other in the championship also?”
Wicklow chairman Martin Coleman warned of the financial repercussions of segregating the eight Division 4 counties from the rest of the class. His preference is that the winners of the B championship would not have to wait 12 months to reap the benefits of second-tier success and instead be reinstated to the championship proper that very summer.
“Division 4 is small fry. If we go to potential sponsors and tell them that we will play in Leinster and failing that we will enter the B championship which provides the opportunity to get back into the championship proper the same year, well then we have a chance. Where we have no chance with potential sponsors is if we have to tell them that we will first play in Leinster, then a subsidiary competition where none of the games will be televised and after that we are done.
“The 2007 Tommy Murphy Cup decider went to extra-time and there was consternation because we were keeping one of the big teams off the main stage for an extra half hour. They were unhappy that the big boys were being held up and, as we all know, the small boy doesn’t create the revenue for Croke Park.”
Added Louth boss Colin Kelly: “I am a firm believer that there is a need for a revamp, but it is about coming up with a structure to accommodate the Division 3/4 counties in a competitive fashion where they can achieve something meaningful during the summer.
“Packing the Division 4 counties off to fend for themselves and play this competition in small regional grounds in front of nobody will do no one any good. I think too much of the Louth players, supporters and Louth GAA in general to front up something like that.”
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