‘The sky is not going to fall in if we do away with the provincial championships’

Colm Collins lets out a dry laugh when reminded that this evening’s Munster quarter-final will be the fourth consecutive year that Limerick and Clare have met at this stage.

Sure, the rise of Clare and, in particular, Tipperary has made the Munster SFC a far more interesting prospect in recent years, but if the Banner football manager had his way, the provincial championships would long since have been consigned to history.

Collins’ proposal for championship reform includes drawing up eight groups of four. Each county would play three games, with the top two in each group advancing to the All-Ireland SFC proper, which would be run on a straight knock-out basis. The bottom two teams from each group would enter a B championship run concurrently to the top tier.

He’s been around long enough, though, to know that unless Croke Park want change, the status quo is maintained.

He previously labelled the Super 8s a “cynical exercise in collecting more money” and while reaching that point in the championship is Clare’s goal for 2018, Collins was surprised at the severity of the push made by Croke Park to get their new model through last year’s Congress.

“It is ironic; the GAA can get something through when they want to get something through. The Super 8s was heavily canvassed. If there is a referendum at national level, there has to be balance. There has to be equal spend. The GAA threw that out the window with the Super 8s, spent it all on my view.”

Collins, now in his fifth year with Clare, sees it as “ridiculous” that four of these summers have begun with Limerick in the opposite corner.

“The excitement of the Munster championship, hah! I have a pain in my face talking about this. How come nobody is grasping the nettle and saying what a fantastic championship there would be if we had 32 teams together.

“In the minor championship this year, Waterford played Cork and got a terrible hammering. How long does that have to keep going on before somebody says, ‘enough is enough’, something needs to be done here to make this a more equitable championship.

“It does get boring. You’re there watching the draws. In Connacht, it was the same pairings again with Galway and Mayo.

“Leinster is a non-event. Imagine what you could do for the championships by showing a bit of initiative.

The sky is not going to fall in if we do away with the provincial championships for a year or two.

“Just because something has gone on for 100 years is no reason to keep with it. We could have such a brilliant championship; that eight groups of four model, then top 16 and second 16. But the All-Ireland B needs to get proper status, not be thrown away like the Tommy Murphy. It needs to be played the same day as the All-Ireland final, given them All-Stars and let them travel with the other All Stars, give them their team holiday and all that. The day you do that, you’ll get a lot of yeses. But again, we are going to have to spend a fair amount of money getting that over the line.”

Collins, we should note, is as pleasant as they come on the inter-county managerial scene, but there are a few items he wants to get off his chest and when finished with matters inter-county, he turns to club activity. Clare were the sole county in Munster who did not schedule championship during the club month of April. There are seven rounds in the Clare football league. Six of them have already been completed. Collins says the number of league games afforded to club players in the Banner should be doubled. Moreover, he would have started the county championship last month, as opposed to waiting until his group exit the race for Sam Maguire.

“Our football leagues are nearly over and it is early May. I fail to see where the merit is in that. They should have played a round of hurling and football championship in April. That didn’t happen. Clubs decided that. I don’t understand it. You’ll see clubs from Clare travelling all over Munster and Connacht looking for challenge games now. It is absolute madness.”

Turning the focus onto his own panel, the manager says Clare football is now a much easier sell given how sharply their graph has risen in recent years. It means the squad can survive - and thrive - without talented players who weren’t willing to give the necessary commitment.

“There’ll always be fellas who won’t relinquish the Saturday night, that’s in all counties. But you find the guys who were serious about it know there is something there for them at the end of the day, whereas before there was a frustration among those about what was going on and maybe, you might have had to entertain some guys that weren’t totally dedicated. Now, if they are not completely dedicated, they are no good to us.”


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