Keen rivals are divided on the way forward for football

Kerry manager Peter Keane urges caution ahead of any changes to the championship format while former Dublin star Diarmuid Connolly says the provinces are finished
Keen rivals are divided on the way forward for football

Kerry manager Peter Keane, seen here speaking  to his players after the league game with Dublin, expressed concerns about player-welfare in any new championship system. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.

KERRY manager Peter Keane and former Dublin star Diarmuid Connolly have opposing views on the way forward for the football championship.

In a nutshell their stance reflects the big challenge facing the GAA when it convenes for a special Congress to discuss the format for next season and beyond at the end of the year.

Keane, preparing his side for the Munster final against Cork in Killarney on Sunday, is worried about the burden on players in any new system while six-time All-Ireland winner Connolly wants an end to the provincial championships.

“You could have a Munster championship very early in the season before going into the league and I would have concerns for an inter-county player because he would be absolutely spent,” said Keane.

“I think that player becomes the meat in the sandwich.

“And I’m not saying that as an inter-county manager because I’ve coached clubs before and will probably end somewhere there again.

“It’s going to be so, so demanding on inter-county players.

“In February or March you could play six or seven games in a round-robin format, pretty much week-on-week.

“Then, you’d have two weeks off before going week-on-week again, maybe playing seven division 1 teams over eight weeks.

“That would be hugely demanding on players. Most panels have 35-36, but that could increase to 44-45 because you’re going to need that due to injuries.

“It’s top-tier games on hard grounds and I think it would end up in a similar situation to this year where you’re going to have a lot of injuries.

“I know something may have to be done, but I’m not sure that’s the system which will work.

“We’re an amateur game, playing for enjoyment and where will it end up?

Connolly, writing in his BoyleSports column, summed up the feelings of many.

“Tradionalists won’t like me saying this, but provincial championships are dead in the water.

“There are high-scoring games, but they are just mismatches,” he said.

Connolly believes one-sided championship fixtures have damaged provincial championships and called for the implementation of a league system with teams of a similar standard.

“There have been too many washouts. It’s no good for the team that gets beaten. It’s no good for the team that wins and it’s no good for the spectators.

“I’ve always like the league. Why can’t they scrap all the pre-season tournaments, play provincial championships as a knock-out in March and April and then start an All-Ireland series with more emphasis on the leagues?

“The top eight teams will be playing each other week-in and week-out and there would be promotion for teams good enough to go up the leagues.

“Everywhere round the world is the same, so I don’t understand why the GAA have to dig their heels in because of the provincial championships.” 

Keane isn’t sure of the best method to cater for everyone. “I don’t know. It’s been a strong topic in the last couple of weeks and there has been a lot of talk about how they go about it.

“If you go back to the 1970s and 80s you had plenty of results like that.

“Ultimately, you’re just going to have one winner at the end of the year.

“There’s going to be a Congress at the end of the year about it and there’s an idea of working the championship based on the league.

“It sounds great in theory, but I’m not so sure if it sounds that good in reality.

“You will get a lot of television sport then which could mean people not going to county league games because you could have Tyrone and Donegal playing each other on tv.

“Something like that happened in the early 1990s with soccer here and in England, people were happier to watch games on tv.

“I don’t have the answer and there are a lot of things out there which aren’t the answer either,” Keane commented.

Ironically, the championship had its best action at the weekend resulting in an Ulster final between Monaghan and Tyrone and a Leinster showdown between Dublin and Kildare.

All the semi-finals produced close games with Meath, unexpectedly, pushing the Dubs all the way.

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