Cork football clubs suffer from Kerry's imbalanced championship structure

Fossa and Rathmore, as expected, landed All-Ireland titles recently
Cork football clubs suffer from Kerry's imbalanced championship structure

O'Donovan Rossa's Mark Collins being challenged by Dohenys' Jerry Farrell in the Bon Secours Cork SAFC at Bantry. Picture: Denis Minihane.

WE would like to wish Clonakilty and Dohenys the best of luck in next year’s Munster Intermediate and Junior Club Football Championships...

I jest, of course. Clonakilty clearly are no intermediate club and Dohenys are not related to a junior club side either, but going on the criteria of our neighbours in Kerry they would be.

Going on the finishing tables of the 2022 Cork Premier Senior Football Championship, Clonakilty would be ranked as the ninth club side in Cork, while Dohenys would be 17th, based on their performance in the Senior A grade. These positions would match those of Rathmore and Fossa who recently won All-Irelands at the intermediate and junior grades.

Kanturk represented Cork in the Munster IFC, on the basis that they were the Premier Intermediate kingpins after beating Bantry Blues in the final. They met Kerry Intermediate champions Rathmore in Munster, in what was effectively the 25th-best club side in Cork against the ninth-best side in Kerry - Cork’s third-tier winners v Kerry’s second-tier winners.

The 1-17 to 2-6 victory by Rathmore showed the gulf between the teams, as even though Kanturk have made huge strides with the big ball you would not expect them to beat the ninth-best Cork side either. Take Clonakilty again as an example, if Clonakilty and Kanturk played each other tomorrow Clon would be heavy favourites.

You would imagine that St Michael’s would have given Rathmore a much tougher battle. Second-tier winners versus second-tier winners. The 13th best side in Cork v the ninth in Kerry. Rathmore might still have prevailed, but it would have been a battle of equals. To call Michael’s an intermediate club would take some leap, however.

DIFFERENT LIGHT

Kilmurry were beaten by 11 points by Fossa in Mallow in December in the Munster JFC final. It might sound like a bit of a thrashing at first glance, but when you consider it was a meeting of Cork’s 53rd team versus Kerry’s 17th then the result takes on a completely different light. The fifth-tier champions against the third. The third-tier winners Kanturk might have faired better against Fossa than they did against Rathmore.

This is far from a Cork versus Kerry issue. It is a national discrepancy. Fossa were the 11th Kerry side to win the All-Ireland JFC since 2005. The All-Ireland IFC only commenced in 2004 and Kerry sides have won seven of these, four more than the next county.

You could argue that Kerry’s success at these grades is down to the fact that Kerry are simply the greatest football team in the entire world and that they will naturally be stronger than their counterparts in other counties, but a quick glance at the SFC shows that this notion does not wash.

Kerry clubs have won just one All-Ireland at senior club level since 1996, with that being Dr Crokes' victory in 2017. The reason for this drop-off is quite clear – their senior clubs are the only ones playing at their actual level.

Kerry have devised their own championship structures to suit their own needs, which is fair enough, but when you consider the spirit of the intermediate and junior grades, the entire situation leaves you cold.

If Kerry want only eight clubs at the senior grade, that is fine, but reconsidering the spirit of the lower grades, maybe they should reconsider who they send to the IFC and JFC provincial championships. Just because you call it junior does not make it junior.

This has not gone unnoticed at national level either. On the back of Rathmore and Fossa’s victories, GAA president Larry McCarthy stated: “We haven’t looked at it nationally. But when you look at the dominance of Kerry teams in terms of clubs and results over the years, perhaps it is something we’ll look at.

“At the same time, it’s a function of the county structures as much as anything else, rather than being a national issue.

“To a certain extent when it comes to All-Ireland semi-finals and finals it is a national issue, but it’s a club structure within the county that delivers those teams to us.

Whether we want to interfere with that, I’m not sure that would be a good thing.”  

McCarthy is clearly aware of the issue but is also fully aware of the hot political potato it would become if the GAA tried to force Kerry to alter their structures.

Some might argue that Cork, and other counties, should alter their grade structures to match Kerry’s but that would merely be a race to the bottom and would be (using this term on multiple occasions deliberately) against the spirit of the grades in question.

Something certainly has to give.

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