When the topic of Derry football is broached, top tier names spring to mind such as Henry Downey, Paddy Bradley, Enda Muldoon and Chrissy McKaigue.
Unfortunately, for the latter, despite his brilliance, the harsh reality is that he will be competing in a second-tier championship in 2020 when Gaelic football officially splits the inter-county competitions in two.
The introduction of a two-tiered system has become quite a divisive topic in recent months. While many feel a second-tier is long overdue, just as many see it as a move that will set Gaelic football back a number of years.
Chrissy McKaigue is of the latter opinion, describing it as a dangerous precedent.
“I’ve been pretty adamant that I don’t agree with it. It’s a very dangerous precedent to be setting,” McKaigue said at the AIB GAA Semi-Finals Media Day.
“What’s going to happen – no matter how they dress it up – you’re going to have players losing interest. For me, there’s always been a huge prestige about playing at the top level. There’s only one team each year that can win the Sam Maguire, there’s only four teams who can win the provincials, there’s only four teams who can win a National League.
“If we only played for the guarantee of winning, I don’t think we’d play too long. For me, anyway, there’s always a huge prestige in playing against the best and playing at the best level.”
“How do we close the gap from the best to the weakest, if we categorise teams into groups that are only competitive with each other, I don’t see the logic in that… How can we close the gap to make it a more vibrant, healthy competition?
“The hurling, at the top level, if we’re being totally honest, what six teams, seven at most can [win] the Liam MacCarthy – it’s not really the ethos of the GAA, is it?
“We don’t want to create a divide of elitism. I mentioned before that we have problems [like] population size, that’s a big dictator in terms of who are the strong and weak counties. You have tradition and all those different things.
“I’d just love to see an association that really looks at trying to balance the books in terms of resources, giving teams more resources to catch up and make for a more competitive hurling and football championship. More teams, more competition, that’s what would excite me. Obviously, that would be a longer-term plan. I’m not sure that I see that long-term plan with the tiered competitions; what I see there is a great divide being created.
“What you see a lot in the lower tier hurling competitions is very small crowds going to it, very little press coverage, very little interest.”
While McKaigue believes the qualifier system has become outdated, he feels a two-tiered championship is the wrong way to tackle the problem.
The Slaughtneil defender, like so many others, feels it’s time the GAA adopted a system straight out of the soccer playbook.
“Well, the qualifier system has been there for a long time. The system probably is outdated but I don’t think the tiered system is the way to go about it.
“I would love to see the National League standings, yes have a bearing on whatever else… A Champions League type system or something like that but giving teams a chance to play at the top level…
“OK, people might say we’re out of our depth or whatever else but if you were to put a plan in place for resources and coaching structures and helping developing counties out, in time you could see things begin to change.”
The inspirational Derry leader continued by highlighting the improved strides made in hurling by counties such as Laois, Carlow and Westmeath.
“You see that with the Carlow hurlers and the Laois hurlers, Westmeath hurlers. Talking to those players, they feel the same, where is the next step now if they continue to play at second-grade hurling; how do they ever get up to the level where they’re constantly competitive with the best teams?”