Ger McCarthy on why Cork's club ladies football structure can be improved

It's time for a rethink of the current Cork LGFA championship set-up following the success of the county’s GAA club competitions
Ger McCarthy on why Cork's club ladies football structure can be improved

Aoife Rodgers and Laura Cleary, Éire Óg, make their way onto the pitch for the first senior final, played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

LAST year’s Cork LGFA senior club championship was contested by nine teams.

Producing an expected county decider between the eventual winners, Mourneabbey and Éire Óg, the former deservedly claimed the title at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

In the grade directly below, a mere six clubs were involved in an intermediate county title chase won by Valley Rovers.

The revamp of the Cork GAA adult men’s football and hurling championships has breathed new life into the competitions over the past number of years. A fresh GAA club structure has led to meaningful group, knockout, and relegation matches from the beginning to end of each championship.

That, in turn, has led to increased media coverage, press and online, and Cork GAA clubs are reaping the benefits of their increased exposure.

Add in the fact that each club player is guaranteed a minimum of three group fixtures and the prospect of three more additional knockout matches and the Cork county board deserves credit for pushing through on their competition revamps.

Look at the quality of county championship semi-finals and finals that have been produced in Cork, in both football and hurling across all grades, during the past two seasons alone.

Clearly, the new Cork GAA club structures are working and the cream is rising to the top in each grade, thanks to a sensible promotion and relegation play-off methodology.

Our club county championships are not perfect, divisions and dual players are still encountering issues, but compared to what was there before, this is a success story and Cork GAA is the winner.

So, why not introduce a similar structure for the Cork LGFA championships?

This article is not suggesting there is anything necessarily wrong with the current set-up, but merely asking the question: Would a revamp of Cork’s ladies’ football club championships be a worthwhile venture?

Is there that much of a difference between the lowest-ranked and least-successful Cork senior LGFA clubs and those competing at intermediate level? The same question can be applied to the junior A and junior B ranks.

There are so many clubs competing at senior, intermediate, and junior level throughout the county that, surely, a more even spread of numbers and reduced championships, as Cork LGFA currently looks after10 county football championships, from senior A down to junior G, would make for a better all-round product.

CHALLENGE

Sadly, I’m fully aware of the difficulties that ladies’ football clubs have when it comes to procuring a pitch for their matches. So, a suggested increase in the number of club championship games may, initially, not sound that appealing.

Yet, there is a bigger prize at stake here. By shaking up LGFA club gradings throughout the county, after a year or two and similar to what’s happened with Cork GAA, things would even out and more exciting, evenly-fought championships would emerge.

That, in turn, would attract more eyeballs to the product, and give players more meaningful championship games and defined promotion and relegation paths.

Having 12 teams competing for each Cork LGFA championship would make group games and subsequent knockout rounds easier to plan for and promote.

Four teams in each group would play each other once, with group winners going straight through to the quarter-finals. The two teams with the worst records would play-off in a relegation final.

By combining the Cork LGFA senior and intermediate grades and adding — if feasible — a division like West Cork, then next year’s county championship could, hypothetically, consist of Group A: Mourneabbey, Inch Rovers, Clonakilty, Aghada. Group B: Éire Óg, Kinsale, St. Val’s, Glanmire. Group C: Bride Rovers, Fermoy, Valley Rovers, West Cork.

Equally, restructuring the Cork LGFA intermediate championship to include top-ranked junior A and junior B clubs would look a lot more competitive. An overhauled IFC could be made up of: 

Group A: Donoughmore, Bantry Blues, Naomh Abán, Dromtarriffe. Group B: Araglen Desmonds Buí, Dohenys, Douglas, O’Donovan Rossa. Group C: Rosscarbery, Castlehaven, Abhainn Dalla, Watergrasshill.

Even if the remaining grades were left untouched, that suggested Cork LGFA restructuring of senior and intermediate competitions would be worth trialling for a number of reasons.

Clubs in the top two tiers would benefit from reaching the knockout stages, having played an equal number of group games. Relegation play-offs would give those struggling a fair chance to retain their status. The possibility of a senior/intermediate B knockout competition for those eliminated at the quarter-final stages could still be incorporated.

REGULAR

At its most basic level, giving the county’s club players an even amount of regular county championship fixtures would improve the overall quality of ladies’ football in Cork.

The more competitive club games a player takes part in, the better she becomes. Another knock-on effect is a championship restructure also gives players more games to show Cork LGFA managers and selectors what they can do in a competitive, rather than trial, environment.

Right now, it is going to take something special to dethrone Mourneabbey from the summit of the senior grade.

The likes of Éire Óg, Bride Rovers, St Val’s, Inch Rovers, and Kinsale require regular, meaningful championship games if they are ever going to narrow the gap.

Changing the club championship structures will not solve every issue facing Cork LGFA. Is a revamp not worth exploring if it would improve the quality of what’s already there and attract increased media coverage and sponsorship?

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