Last Sunday night, like most Sunday nights, saw a renewed call for changes to the Championship structure. A Division 4 team playing Dublin? In a final? How could this happen?
People who put out questions like these ignored the fact that Westmeath beat Kildare, who will operate in Division 2 in 2017, to get to the final. It also ignores the fact that Westmeath reached the final last year and, league standings aside, have put forward a decent case for being considered second best in Leinster in the championships of 2015 and 2016.
Now, Westmeath are no world-beaters, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But they are doing what have to do and are getting Championship wins. They have a chance to play in one of the biggest stadiums in Europe and face-off against one of the most balanced and all-round talented teams in the country in any sport. What an opportunity they have on a big stage – why not go for the jugular and have a go?
A Leinster final appearance also guarantees the Midlands county a spot in round four of the qualifiers and the last 12 in the Championship. Westmeath shouldn’t have a “job-done” attitude but whatever happens from here, they’ve done well.
Already into the last 12 in the country is Tipperary. They too have already outplayed their ranking and get the chance to play Kerry in the Munster final on Sunday. Nobody is giving them a chance but why bother playing Gaelic football if the prospect of playing the Kingdom in Killarney isn’t an appealing way to spend a Sunday afternoon?
This is a unique opportunity for the footballers of the Premier County, that, despite their recent under-age success, they may not get too many chances at playing in a Munster final against Kerry.
There was crazy talk on social media that if the Championship was split into an ‘A’ and ‘B’ Championship Tipp would get regular scalps in the top tier. They beat a poor, demoralised Cork once in over 70 years and people are talking them up. If you put the Division 3 and 4 sides into a second-tier competition, there is no guarantee Tipperary would come out on top.
Westmeath have proved a good Championship team, but in the league – where consistency is rewarded – they have suffered back-to-back relegations. There is nothing to suggest that either of these sides would win a ‘B’ competition, especially if this competition is not played on a knock-out basis.
However, over the next few weekends, they have something a second-tier championship would never offer them – the chance to take on the top teams in the country in their own back yard with a title on the line.
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena