GAA president Liam O’Neill has ruled out the introduction of a second-tier football championship to cater for the growing number of counties whose involvement in the race for Sam Maguire is no longer justifiable.
O’Neill says an All-Ireland B championship, similar to the Tommy Murphy Cup which existed from 2005-2008, “probably won’t happen”, calling instead for a review of the qualifier structure which he believes has no benefit for the Carlow’s and Leitrim’s of the football world.
Carlow were subject to a 28-point hammering by Meath in the Leinster quarter-final, with Leitrim on the receiving end of a 4-18 to 0-9 trouncing by Down last month. The Páirc Esler bashing represented the county’s second substantial beating in successive summers, falling to Armagh 8-13 to 0-10 in the 2013 qualifiers.
Leitrim secretary Diarmuid Sweeney revealed to the Irish Examiner earlier this month the county were considering dropping down to junior level if a B championship was not forthcoming and O’Neill is adamant change must be brought about.
“The qualifiers are being questioned, and they are being questioned because, realistically, no matter what system you have ... there’s a group of eight or 10 who are going to come through anyway,” the GAA president stressed.
“People are taking the view now the longer you’re in the qualifiers, the more costly it is to keep going — if you haven’t a reasonable chance of getting to the quarter-finals. While we probably won’t go back to a ‘B’ championship, I think there has to be some rethink on what we’re doing with counties like Leitrim for whom the qualifiers have never made much sense. They’ve never had any great success (in the qualifiers) and I think the county secretary expressed that. So when you hear someone from a county like that expressing reservations, you have to at least give an ear to him and see what proposals he has.”
O’Neill insisted the association would not stick their heads in the sand over the issue and is keen to see a debate initiated before he leaves office.
“I want people to discuss it, at least. If you keep on doing the same thing, over and over and over again, you’re going to get the same results. But if we want things to change, then we have to change something in the mix. The debate is probably best carried on amongst those counties who’ve had least success in the qualifiers and for whom it has been, sometimes, a costly experience just prolonging the inevitable and keeping them from their basic mission of playing club games.
“I think you can certainly start off in the championship; but the difficulty is not starting off, the difficulty is where you end up. And that’s where the qualifier system is being questioned. That is then where the debate must be. No competition has 32 participants that are all even unless you have to qualify to get into it.
“It is often for the buzz of being a part of it and people like to be part of the All-Ireland series. That is more prevalent among football counties. I think it was expressed at Central Council level by the Waterford delegate; Paddy Joe Ryan said openly that they might only beat Kerry once every 50 years but they’d like a shot at them. And that victory, once every 50 years, is justification for being in that championship.”
Central Council last month backed the Football Review Committee’s recommendation to finish the club championship in a calendar year and O’Neill admits certain inter-county competitions will have to be moved to accommodate the condensed club season.
“I think that would probably lead to a situation where we would look at the inter-county games that impact on club games but might have more of an impact than they are actually worth so people will make that decision.”
“I think what’s going to be really important is that the clubs have been saying we haven’t been taking them seriously. If the clubs unite and if they mandate their delegates to vote for the club championships in one year, that will bring about a whole raft of changes which would see games becoming better organised and more relevant. The challenge now is to the clubs to mandate their county boards to bring that situation about. It’s about them taking responsibility.”
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