Sligo captain Mark Breheny believes the football qualifiers have run their course and reckons change is necessary so to keep fresh the All-Ireland SFC format.
Breheny is better placed than most to pass comment on the impact the qualifiers have had, and their current effectiveness, given he joined the Sligo panel the year before the backdoor was introduced in 2001.
Indeed, Monaghan’s Dick Clerkin aside, 35-year old Breheny — now in his 16th season with the Yeats County — is one of the longest- serving players operating at inter-county level.
“I’d have a good knowledge of what has happened since the introduction of the qualifiers and the way things have developed. You probably do need some form of an updated version now to push things on,” said the Sligo forward.
“The qualifiers had their time and they were brilliant for counties like ourselves. A lot of counties emerged like Fermanagh and Wexford, to name but a few. It certainly did a huge amount for us.
“It exposed our game to different provinces. The qualifiers ensured that you weren’t playing the same teams over and over again.
“Things can only last for a certain amount of time. It was new to us then, the excitement of the qualifier draws, but I do feel, whatever format it is and there is a lot of debate about this, that something needs to happen with regard to the championship format to freshen things up and to move it on again similar to what the qualifiers did to the previous format.
“We benefited from it a huge amount, particularly in years like 2001 when we played Dublin and Kildare at Croke Park, and I am not saying that we don’t still get excited about a qualifier draw. But it probably doesn’t have the same appeal, particularly compared to those early years.”
The qualifiers are a road Breheny is hoping to avoid this summer as he chases a sixth Connacht final appearance and a second Connacht medal. To achieve either, Roscommon will first have to be negotiated in this Sunday’s Connacht semi-final at Hyde Park — Niall Carew’s side sprung an upset this time last year to advance to the decider at Roscommon’s expense.
“I am hoping to play in my sixth Connacht final which could be a record for a Sligo player. It would be an ambition of mine to win a second Connacht medal. That has never been achieved before so myself and a few other lads on the panel would be part of an unique group if we did that.
“One of the targets at the start of the year was to get back into the Connacht final. It is about being right on the day and making sure we put in a massive performance to get us over the line.
“Last year, we had ended the league very well and that gave us great confidence going into the Roscommon game. We were delighted to come away with a win and know it will take another big effort to repeat that result.”
Joining Breheny on the pitch this Sunday will be his nephew Cian, son of 2007 Connacht winning Sligo manager Tommy Breheny. The 20-year old midfielder made his debut last summer and Mark says it is a slightly strange, if enjoyable, phenomenon to be playing alongside his nephew in the Sligo colours.
“Years ago we laughed about the possibility of playing together at club level because there is a greater chance, from my point of view, of longevity at club level. Last year, we played in Croke Park together and that was an honour.
“He has been part of the panel for many years given he would have been in the dressing-room as a young lad when his dad was manager. I’ve watched him develop as a footballer and he is part of a group of young players that represent the future of Sligo football.”
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