“The league is probably the most exciting part of the year because you are playing week on week and that’s what players want.” – Mickey Burke (Meath).
A Mayo revival, a Leitrim wave and a third division as tight as a snare drum… what a league campaign it was.
Over the last three months fans up and down the country have been treated to an array of tight games week in, week out and it’s becoming increasingly clearer that the league means more now than it ever has done.
It offers most teams their best chance of winning silverware and promotion gives counties an opportunity to pit their wits against the best, while the threat of relegation adds to the buzz and excitement that comes from a league based structure.
Like Mickey Burke said, having games week on week is exciting and it’s what players want.
The Holy Grail will always be winning the All-Ireland and that will never change, but why can’t we change the structures? The thrill of winning is excellent, but is the journey to get there really exciting?
And for those weaker counties, is it enough that they are living in hope of claiming a big scalp before eventually falling to one of the top teams?
Why can’t the excitement of the league be replicated in the championship?
Will The Championship Be Exciting?
The championship kicks off in May and looking through the opening month of fixtures only three games stand out as potentially exciting contests.
Tyrone v Derry – May, 12th
Cavan v Monaghan – May, 18th
Down v Armagh – May, 19th
Why three Ulster games? Sure Ulster football is boring!
At least in Ulster, the provincial championship is competitive, hence why six of the nine teams operate in the top two divisions, with Down and Derry currently playing beneath themselves.
These three games involve six teams who each feel they can win the Anglo-Celt Cup and lest we forget they are all derby matches.
Some may argue that a game like Westmeath v Laois (a repeat of this weekend’s Division 3 final) will be somewhat exciting but why? Because they are at a similar level. The fact is, no matter who wins, they are playing for nothing, a non-competitive championship that eventually will be won by Dublin at a canter.
This is not a northern bias, it’s just stating a fact and unfortunately, while I personally love the Ulster Championship, it has to go for the sake of the game across the island.
We want a competitive championship, we want excitement, we want teams playing for something tangible and we want them to believe that they can win an All-Ireland just as they do with the Allianz Leagues.
We need a two-tiered All-Ireland Championship, based in a league format that allows teams to pit their wits against each other week in, week out with a realistic chance of winning an All-Ireland and moving up the ladder towards higher opposition.
It works and would make for an exciting campaign. Just as the Allianz Football League has continually proven down through the years. Take Leitrim this season as an example.
The Leitrim Effect A Rallying Call For A Two-Tiered Championship
Leitrim have cemented their status as the story of 2019 before the ‘big competition’ has even begun and unless Wicklow or Sligo or London etc reach the Super 8s then they will still be the story of 2019 come the end.
A buzz reverberated around the county following their league exploits and it led to thousands of Leitrim natives flocking en masse to Croke Park for a showdown with Derry in the Division 4 final where they fell short against a classier outfit who were expected to win.
However, the fact that they lost doesn’t matter, it gave them something to cheer about, something to look forward to and memories to savour forever. It gave them all a national final and that is not to be sniffed at.
Unfortunately, it is something that only the league can provide at present.
Speaking to Pundit Arena ahead of the final, Mark Plunkett spoke of their disappointment at drawing Monaghan in last season’s championship campaign.
Leitrim were drawn to face the Division 1 outfit after a great win over Louth but as expected, fell short despite their best efforts and according to Plunkett, it was “bitterly disappointing as we weren’t ready to have our championship run end that day”.
The unfortunate reality is that this is always going to be the case for Leitrim and many others. Teams are living in hope that they can embark on a two or three-game run before eventually drawing a top side and crashing out.
Maybe it’s time to consider introducing another championship for the Leitrim’s of this world, something tangible that they know they can win instead of hoping to avoid enough top-teams in order to have an extended run.
If thousands are flocking to Croke Park to watch Leitrim in a Division 4 league final then surely more will follow them to HQ to contest a championship that they can actually win.
The excitement we got off Leitrim in the league deserved to be the championship.
The championship pales in comparison to the Allianz Leagues and how the powers that be don’t see this and seek change, never ceases to amaze me.
To go from playing games week on week, producing cracking football and striving for silverware to hoping that you can pick up one or two wins before eventually falling to a top-tier side. That’s not really a competition, is it?
The way things stand, the excitement of the Allianz Leagues makes for an embarrassing All-Ireland Championship and I for one am slightly bummed out that it’s over for another year.