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'I think it’s the right thing to do' - GAA plans for a two-tier All-Ireland football championship

The final of the new competition would be a curtain-raiser to the All-Ireland decider.

Updated Sep 19th 2018, 12:07 PM

AN ATTEMPT WILL be made in the coming months to sell the idea of introducing a second-tier All-Ireland football championship with the GAA President John Horan believing it ‘is the right thing to do’ as the issue of a gap in standards between counties in Gaelic football continues to arise.

General view of Gaelic footballs Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The GAA’s Central Council gave the green light earlier this month to the establishment of such a competition despite the proposal receiving a lack of support in 2016 and the motion subsequently being withdrawn before Congress that year.

But Horan feels that it is a move worth making by GAA chiefs and is conscious that it must be presented as a championship that would be ‘attractive’ for players.

Playing it concurrently with the main All-Ireland championship, staging the final as a curtain-raiser to the Sam Maguire showpiece and introducing an All-Stars scheme are all measures that could be brought in to boost the profile of the new competition.

“We discussed it the last day at Central Council, we put it to the floor for just a straw poll opinion,” stated Horan.

“Every hand went up, everybody was of the view that it should happen. We have written to the counties and we have asked them to come back with what they feel should be the make-up of a tier two competition. We will take on board what they have to offer and we will present it.

Launch of ESRI Report into Playing Senior Intercounty Gaelic Games John Horan was speaking at the launch of the ESRI report into playing senior inter-county GAA. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“We are doing a bit of research as well into the performance of the Division 3 and 4 teams in the qualifiers in the last few years and see have they benefited or have they gained anything out of it. Have they beaten Division 1 or 2 teams or are Division 3 or 4 teams? Are any wins they are getting in the qualifiers, solely coming from beating Division 3 or 4 teams?

“I think if you are going to sell it, you are going to have to sell it in a manner that makes it attractive to players. If you’re a lad playing for Longford for 10 years, I think you are entitled to a day in Croke Park in September, rather than give it to a 15 or 16-year-old who may drift away from the game in a year or two and never really value that experience, so my hope would be that it would be a curtain-raiser to the senior final in September.

“It depends on how much momentum we get coming back from the counties that they will actually drive on and go with this and we can get it to happen. It would mean that those teams that go into Tier 2 wouldn’t play in the qualifiers, that the qualifiers would be a smaller competition restricted to maybe teams – and this is my own personal speculation on this – teams that are in Division 1 or 2 or teams that get to a provincial final.

“So if a Division 3 or 4 team or teams who get to a provincial final, they will get the opportunity to play one more game and get to the Super 8s. You are leaving the door open for everybody to try and win Sam Maguire. You are leaving it open for everybody to go and win a provincial title.

Laois team during the national anthem Division 4 league champions Laois reached this year's Leinster final. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“And maybe we will run this and if we played it in front of the All-Ireland final, picked an All-Stars team from it and we allowed them to go on an All-Star tour, then I think whatever team is involved might get the right to be in the qualifiers for the following year if their status hasn’t risen out of the League.”

If it was to be passed at next year’s Congress, the new championship would be first played in 2020 and Horan does not envisage a conflict introducing this competition while the three-year Super 8s experiment is still ongoing.

“I get a feeling talking to Seamus Hickey (GPA Chairman) and talking to other people, there is a feeling there to go for it. County Boards seem to be in favour of it. It’s to get the players to buy into it.

Seamus Hickey GPA Chairman Seamus Hickey. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“Look, it works in ladies football. It works in camogie and it works in hurling. I just can’t see why there is such a major resistance to it in football, but it’s there.”

Horan is mindful of the serious resistance expressed by players from the lower-ranked counties when this was previously debated but does not believe the GAA ‘should shy away from the debate’.

“I think that’s a challenge you have to take on, in fairness. I think it’s the right thing to do.

“It’s about how you present it to people and get people to buy into it and then hopefully you will deliver it.

“Like, if you go back, the present structure in hurling, which everybody eulogised, that was proposed back in when, 2012 and it was blown out the door.

“I think it was Tommy Lanigan made the comment to Pat Daly, ‘there was more time spent on discussing that topic than there was on our proposal at the meeting,’ and yet it has come through now.

“If it happens in my time, great. If this is the sowing of the seed for it to happen going into the future. I think it’s inevitable and I don’t think we should shy away from the debate.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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