During last week’s provincial football and hurling draws it was evident that perhaps a revamped structure would not only help the inter-county game, but also make it a lot easier to promote.
Hurling already operates through a two-tier structure, but it’s the removal of the provincial segment I would suggest. Kerry and Galway hurlers are already competing in the Leinster Championship. This takes away from the traditional affection one might have for the provincial rounds during the All-Ireland series.
You could argue that there is nothing wrong with the football provincial championships, but ask yourself what would be a more interesting and competitive Leinster Championship, one with Dublin or one without them?
Historically the provincial championships are very special to players and supporters alike, and have created some magical moments in years gone by. But, as with any sport, there comes a period of evolution, and I feel we have arrived at a crossroads in Gaelic games, with one road providing more potential for future magical moments than the other.
Introducing a two-tier championship gives every county in the country something to build towards. Something to get their young men out training with a genuine belief they might actually get their hands on some meaningful silverware at the end of the year.
Proposed New Structure:
The National League would be made more relevant with those in divisions one and two competing in the ‘A’ All-Ireland series. Teams from divisions three and four therefore would compete in the ‘B’. The format being identical for both football and hurling, meaning we would have four All-Ireland series to keep us entertained during the summer.
The most entertaining and competitively balanced way to play out the series would be four groups of four playing a round robin, with the top two teams from each group then emerging to the quarter-finals. Your final position in the league campaign would determine your All-Ireland series seeding.
Take a county like Longford for example. Every year they enter the Leinster Championship where no other team except Dublin are given any realistic chance of glory. Following their exit they then enter the back door system, where, at best, they get another couple of days out before their inevitable elimination.
A new two-tier system could see them be competitive all year around. Firstly playing for as high seed as possible in the league, if not promotion to the ‘A’ championship. Then ultimately with real aspirations of winning an All Ireland ‘B’, or an invaluable experience in the ‘A’. This is an enormous boost in motivation when compared to the current system.
County’s all over the country are suffering as young players are deciding in bigger numbers every year that the inter-county game isn’t for them. This an unacceptable situation and more must be done by the GAA to ensure there is more incentive than just ‘the pride of wearing the jersey’.
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Make sure to check the latest episode of our weekly GAA podcast, The 16th Man, where we review the draws for the All-Ireland Senior Football and Hurling Championships, and catch up with Paul Galvin to talk all things Kerry football.
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Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. The young men of Longford, Antrim, Leitrim etc all know that it will be one of a handful of teams lifting Sam Maguire at the end of the season.
So, what’s the point when you are being asked to juggle training commitments, family life and full-time employment or education? The old cliché ‘it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part’ just isn’t good enough anymore.
The changes introduced for 2018 do nothing but drag out the competitiveness of the top eight teams in the country. Everything that will have come before the new group stage will have been pointless. Not only for those taking part, but, unfairly, even more so for the minnow counties of the island.
Neál Martin, Pundit Arena
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