GAA President puts a 'second tier' cup on agenda
Current SFC system 'isn't serving' the weaker counties
GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail is backing calls for a second-tier football championship to help weaker counties.
But the GAA's top elected officer believes the provincial championships should remain a central part of whatever SFC format is eventually agreed upon - while the winners of any 'B' style championship should also be given the carrot of a route back into the race for Sam Maguire.
It remains to be seen what, if any, new structures emerge from a debate kickstarted by Ó Fearghail at Central Council two weeks ago, but the subject has gained further traction with Longford's 27-point mauling by Dublin and Waterford's 22-point trimming by one-time minnows Tipperary last Sunday.
"I said to counties - particularly those counties I would call weaker counties or counties who are finding championship structures in football difficult - that if they have proposals to make, come back to us," the president outlined. "This week we have written to counties reiterating that call."
From his own soundings, Ó Fearghail believes counties remain "very committed to the provincial structures. I don't see any change in the provincial structures ... but I do detect within the less successful counties that the current system isn't serving them well. I've asked them to come with ideas."
He continued: "I have views myself and I certainly believe that you should play in the provincial championship because the counties want to. I think all counties like to play that first game in the provincial championship.
"But should they go on ahead as they do now into the qualifiers? Some of the counties feel they should. I personally don't feel they should.
"I would favour a second tier competition for them. I think if you play your provincial championship, are beaten and come from Division Four in the league, going onto the qualifiers as they are currently structured isn't a good idea. I think you would be better to go into (another) competition.
"However, when I say that, most counties come back and agreed with me ... but they would still like a route back into the Sam Maguire. And they're right. So we're looking at that.
"We're looking to see if we can have a situation where a county like Longford, a Division Four team, gets beaten in the Leinster championship ... can they go on and take part in a second tier competition, win it perhaps and then have a route back into the Sam Maguire?"
In the face of some recent stinging criticism, the Cavan official stoutly defended the football championship, adding: "The speed of a fleet should never be determined by the slowest ship in that fleet.
"So it's important for us to help the counties that are struggling but never pull back the counties that are absolutely flying."
He reiterated that any change can only materialise if it is "the will of the counties", harking back to the previous incarnation of a Tommy Murphy Cup that was ultimately rejected by the weaker counties it was designed for.
"It did not last because players felt it was a secondary competition. But the reason for that - I'm told - was that they felt they were being sidelined and that they had no route back in. But I think there could be a route back in for them."
Any new format, where divisional status counts, might also encourage teams to devote more energy into their league progression.
"People have sometimes been talking about football recently at inter-county level as if the only thing that matters is the championship," he pointed out.
"In Leinster next year we will only have Dublin playing in Division One. That has to be an indictment for the other counties. They must improve their league performances."