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'I feel they just have to go ahead and do it' - support for GAA's two-tier football plan

The proposal will be debated at this weekend’s GAA Special Congress.

Donal O'Sullivan pictured in action for Limerick this year against Cork.
Donal O'Sullivan pictured in action for Limerick this year against Cork.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Updated Oct 16th 2019, 8:02 PM

LIMERICK’S JOINT CAPTAIN Donal O’Sullivan has weighed in behind the proposals for a two-tier football championship structure, believing it is ‘definitely worth a trial’ and hopes the GAA will focus in on playing games in Croke Park to promote it if it is passed this weekend.

Saturday in Cork sees the GAA’s Special Congress in Páirc Uí Chaoimh set to vote on the new plan for a second tier championship involving Division 3 and 4 league teams – unless they qualify for their provincial finals or have won the previous year’s competition.

O’Sullivan, who was joint captain of Limerick this year with Iain Corbett, has been on the Limerick panel since 2011 with the goalkeeper enjoying the county’s first Munster championship win in seven years when they stunned Tipperary last May. 

Last week saw Limerick get a favourable looking Munster draw as they avoided the traditional pair of Kerry and Cork with a potentially clearer path to a provincial final mapped out for themselves, Waterford, Clare and Tipperary.

But the 28-year-old is happy to support the proposal and feels those against it have tended to dominate the recent debate.

“Unfortunately sometimes you see the people who have negative conceptions about it tend to shout the loudest about it. I think it’s definitely worth a trial. Like with anything try to expand on it, improve it. This could potentially be a way of helping.

“There’s a lot of white noise around it. You’re never going to get universal agreement from teams and managers who have different agendas. I feel they just have to go ahead and do it.

“It’s been mooted for a while about championship restructure, it’s been dragging on so it’s great to see a bit of movement with it. Like anything I’m sure they’ll reassess after a year or two whether what in the structure is working.

“It’s just about evolving and making things better, in order for hopefully a better game to see and just more interest in the football championship. At the minute it seems to be from the Super 8s on that it starts to hot up.”

The provision of ‘a tangible goal’ to aim at for success is appealing to O’Sullivan who has been playing with his Limerick team-mates largely in Division 4 of the league of late.

“The league is definitely the priority for us. In order to be competitive we need to be going up a division, to consistently play at a higher level just for the development of football in Limerick.

“You see it in Leinster, you see it in Munster, there’s obviously a gap between Division 1 teams and the rest. For us it’s more of a tangible objective to get out of Division 4 than it is to win a Munster championship.

“It’s well acknowledged that the league is the best time of year for competitive games and excitement. It’s nearly a continuation of the league as in you have a tangible, achievable objective that if we were knocked out of the Munster championship and go into the Tier 2 section.”

donal-osullivan-celebrates-with-padraig-de-brun-after-the-game Limerick goalkeeper Donal O’Sullivan celebrates with Padraig De Brun after the Munster quarter-final against Tipperary. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Rather than focus on the issue of media coverage, O’Sullivan believes the GAA should focus on what promotional measures they can control, particularly putting the Tier 2 decider on All-Ireland final day instead of the traditional minor curtain-raiser.

“I would like it to be an attractive final and a few things associated with it to arguably have more prestige than the Tommy Murphy Cup which didn’t really capture the imagination. I think there’s a body of movement that agree that it’s needed.

“Say if it was played before the All-Ireland football final, that would be definitely the pinnacle of a lot of footballers’ careers. There’s only a select few that play on All-Ireland final day, for everyone else it’s beyond the realms of possibility.

“Every team in Division 3 and 4 would fancy getting to a final, they’d feel on their day they could beat other teams in those divisions which makes it exciting and makes going back to training a lot easier. That’s largely why I’m in favour of it, there’s a tangible goal there.

“I don’t think it’s the media’s obligation that they have to cover it. There’s something the GAA can do to make it prestigious within their own control as opposed to relying on media to hype it. I don’t know how other people feel but you see underage minor All-Ireland finals being played there on All-Ireland final day. The likes of Emlyn Mulligan this year finally got a game in Croker after maybe playing for 15 years.

“It’s open to people’s opinions but you could argue that having two teams that are perennially in Division 3 or Division 4 playing on All-Ireland final day, rewarding lads that have been there for 10 years plus, is arguably more rewarding than some of the lads from traditional counties playing for their minor teams.

seanie-buckley-lifts-the-division-4-trophy-with-teammates Limerick players after their Division 4 league final win in 2013. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“Realistically you’d say those lads keep at it and they’ll get days out in Croke Park regardless. Again look I’m biased, I fall into the bracket of playing eight years plus, and would like more big days out in Croker.

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“There’s a few things that the GAA will hopefully bring in, maybe a Tier 2 All-Stars team. I’d love to see them go off with the Tier 1 team, play against each other.”

The knockout element of the second tier structure appeals to O’Sullivan and the prospect of a longer campaign.

“Two years ago we lost to Clare, then we played Mayo in the championship and we were gone by the middle of June. Getting a run of games with the carrot at the end of it if you were in the Tier 2 championship, I don’t think for me anyway there’s much argument with that.

cillian-oconnor-scores-a-goal-despite-donal-osullivan Cillian O'Connor finds the net for Limerick against Mayo in 2018. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I feel separate to this is the huge issue what to do with the club championship so I don’t think if you were to get a round-robin for a Tier 2 system, I think you’re really putting the squeeze on the club championship then.

“I also think if you look at the past championships and something like Sigerson games that are knockout, it’s very exciting with everything on the line. Hopefully you’re going into the game with a realistic chance of winning, that heightens the atmosphere.

“I can’t speak for every single one (in the Limerick panel) but the majority or the consensus is that it’s something to look forward to. It’s definitely exciting.”

Ryan Bailey steps into the presenter’s chair where he’s joined by Murray Kinsella and Eoin Toolan on the line for Japan to tee up one of the biggest, if not the biggest week in Irish rugby: a World Cup quarter-final against back-to-back champions New Zealand.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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