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Nothing to get excited about in 'stale' Gaelic football Championship structure -- Ciaran Whelan

The former midfielder believes it’s time some of the provincial boundaries were redrawn to make for a nine-month long Championship season.

Cormac Costello scores Dublin's first goal in the Leinster semi-final against Wexford.
Cormac Costello scores Dublin's first goal in the Leinster semi-final against Wexford.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

CIARAN WHELAN BELIEVES that Gaelic football’s traditional structure has lumbered on for long enough. It’s time for change.

The former Dublin midfielder believes it’s time to start redrawing provincial lines and combining League and Championship into a single tournament.

“There is a staleness, and to be frank about it, the football Championship this year hasn’t been great,” Whelan said at the launch of the Bord Gais Energy Legends Tour.

“There’s been nothing to get excited about. No games put you on the edge of your seat saying, ‘this is end to end stuff’. We need something new.”

“The bite has gone out of the provincial championships. The qualifiers to a certain degree have gone a little bit stale in the early rounds. It’s only from here, from this weekend onwards, or the provincial finals last weekend, that it really begins to heat up and you can see a few attractive games coming down the line.

“They’re just repetitive, I think a lot of fixtures are becoming repetitive, Cork/Kerry in Munster, Galway/Mayo, Dublin/Meath to a certain degree. They just don’t have that same bite they did 15 years ago when there was no back door.”

Whelan’s proposed new structure would see the National Football League replaced by provincial Championships run off on a league basis, with provincial borders redrawn to balance the number at eight in each. Such a structure would mean that Leinster and Ulster would have to shed teams to bring Connacht and Munster up to an even number.

Border teams, Whelan says, not the likes of Derry, Wicklow or Dublin.

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Whelan Tony Browne and Ciaran Whelan at the launch of the Bord Gais Energy Legends Tour. Source: Barry Cregg/SPORTSFILE

“I think you do it by boundaries – you can structure it in a way that you’re moving teams that are in that area. You can move Donegal into Connacht and Longford into Connacht. I don’t think you have to pluck teams. You do it by area and try and divide the country in four.”

From there, the top five teams from each new province would qualify for the All-Ireland Championship. In that ‘Championship proper’ stage, the nation would again be divided into four groups of five, though not geographically, as they compete for a place in the knockout stages. And while the main show is on the road, the 12 teams who didn’t make it out of their provincial league would compete in a ‘B Championship’ in two groups of six.

League

Whelan is happy for his ideas to be contested, citing the Rule 42 change as an example of how a debate in the organisation can keep the game healthy.

“I fully accept the argument about [keeping] provincials. That would be why I say you keep your provinces but they’re provincial leagues. You would play your provincial leagues, have a provincial winner in April. If you finish in the top five you’re in the top tier of the Championship, if you finish in the bottom three [second tier Championship].”

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Sean Farrell

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