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Cork’s John O’Rourke with Conor Hussey of Roscommon. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Cork’s John O’Rourke with Conor Hussey of Roscommon. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
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The Paudie Kissane column: Football championship change is badly needed

CHAMPIONSHIP reform is in the news again as GAA President John Horan strives to make significant change to the senior inter-county football championship.

This will involve a two-tier All-Ireland championship on completion of the existing provincial competitions.

There is much resistance to the structure proposed in particular coming from teams competing in division three and four. That is understandable considering next year's Division 3, in particular, will be very competitive.

Resistance alone is no guarantee the new structure will not be passed at the special congress been held in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on October 19. Let's hope some common sense prevails in the next few weeks.

There is a common view that change is needed but just more discussion is required before a final decision is made for next year. This seems quite sensible considering a Fixture Calendar Task Force (FCTF) was set up this year to review the competition structures and to present their findings this November.

Invariably, in a few weeks time, a new championship structure could be passed at congress while a few weeks later the FCTF could put forward some other great recommendations. If you were on that committee right now, you would nearly think why bother?

One of the main concerns with the proposed new two-tier structure is teams from Division 3 and 4 will not get any opportunity of competing for the tier one All Ireland, unless they progress to the provincial final.

Cork manager Ronan McCarthy and his team will be in Division 3 next spring. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Cork manager Ronan McCarthy and his team will be in Division 3 next spring. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Secondly there is fear that players and supporters will have no interest in competing for a tier two championship. This is understandable, more so from a Division 3 team who may have recently been competing in Division 2. While you cant forget either the lack of promotion and reward for the previous Tommy Murphy cup competition.

In contrast, I think most division 4 teams would like the option of competing for an All Ireland championship in July and August provided the competition was given the right respect. The increased number of games leading to more development individually and collectively as a team.

This year Meath and Cork, for example, were very competitive in the Super 8s. No doubt both teams would have liked to have won more games, but from a team development point of view alone I am sure many lessons were learned to provide potential for further progression in 2020.

You cannot beat that regular competition against top teams, which will expose your flaws but also highlight what has been done well. This can bring great clarity and confidence moving forward. Also no matter what level you play, players just want to play games.

Its not part of the recent proposal from Croke Park but I see no reason why a tier 2 championship could not involve a Super 8 type structure. Instead of two groups of four, there would be four groups of four.

It doesn’t seem fair in the recent proposal that the tier one championship the existing Super 8 format would remain while the tier two championship would be straight knockout. This sends out the wrong message to lower ranked teams and would indicate that the main focus is on the top tier championship.

Clare manager Colm Collins highlighted many times in recent seasons how the provincial championships were dead and that it was time for total reform. His idea started with every team getting an opportunity to compete for the tier one All-Ireland. Eight groups of four and then based of those results split the championship into two tiers of straight knockout.

I certainly see merit in his argument considering the imbalance in number of games and competituveness when comparing each province. In time the provincial championships may go but do not see it happening just yet. It will be interesting to see do the FCTF have similar views.

Previously Jimmy McGuinness also put forward his views on revamping the football championship. His idea involved splitting the championship into two tiers of 16 teams also. The different though was a division three or four side still had an opportunity to gain entry to the tier one All-Ireland if they gained promotion from division three or progressed to the provincial final.

Similarly if a teams result were poor leading to relegation from division two and early exit from the provincial championship then this team would be competing for the tier two All Ireland. Not very appealing for that particular side but then again its competitive sport and if the results aren’t good enough well then you suffer possible demotion.

I liked McGuinness’s proposal as what championship you competed in was based off a team’s form or results for the same year. The only exception was the tier two winners would be gain automatic entry to the following years tier one championship.

I think the least the players deserve is for a decision to be delayed until we hear what the FCTF recommend. Players and management alike are committing huge time to preparation and competing at intercounty level. Players involved presently have no real interest in what happen in a few years, it about now and 2020. Change is needed but let’s try and make the best decision possible.

Contact: @paudiekissane or email [email protected]