herald

Wednesday 26 July 2017

It's up to the weaker teams to make a stand

Outdated structure is an insult to the modern footballer

Westmeath’s Mark McCallon looks dejected after a heavy defeat by Dublin in the Leinster SFC semi-final at Croke Park last month. Pic: Sportsfile
Westmeath’s Mark McCallon looks dejected after a heavy defeat by Dublin in the Leinster SFC semi-final at Croke Park last month. Pic: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Eoghan O’Gara scores his side’s second goal during their rout of Westmeath in the recent Leinster SFC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile

It's that time of year again. The provincial championship trophies are being polished up and handed out to the usual suspects while the rest battle to stay in the qualifying section of the competition.

It is still in the early days of July but some teams have packed away their inter-county colours for the rest of the year and their next meaningful game will be in eight months' time, when the national league kicks off again.

The situation which these teams find themselves in year after year is almost laughable but what really surprises me is that most, if not all, are totally silent on the issue and seem to be happy to plod on year in, year out.

If you take away the seven league matches played between February and April each year, these teams are really only committing to two championship games in May or June.

Complaining

Bear in mind that pre-2001, when the back door was introduced, that number was just one game for the majority of teams playing in our 'one size fits all' championship dating back over a century.

Why aren't counties like Louth, Fermanagh, Waterford, Wicklow, Wexford, Antrim, Sligo, Westmeath, Limerick, Longford, Cavan, Leitrim, Carlow, Laois, Offaly, Derry and London complaining about the unfairness of the championship they find themselves in every season?

They train as hard as the top teams, give the same commitment in terms of their diet and gym work for months on end just to play two championship games.

It's utter madness, not to mention the vast amounts of money spent by county boards on management teams, food and everything else.

There has always been a resistance from the so-called weaker teams to change the structures, which is understandable in some ways. But I see the gap getting wider between the strong and the weak and that is not going to change anytime soon.

I have said it before that the club structure is the only way forward. In the club competitions most if not all teams play at the correct level and in the proper championships. There is plenty of movement within the different grades as teams suffer barren years but ultimately over time it all levels out.

If a county board in any county put a junior team into a senior championship there would be uproar.

It simply wouldn't be accepted. And yet that's what's been happening at inter-county level for years.

From a player's perspective, I would prefer to be in an 'intermediate' or 'junior' championship with a chance of competing well as opposed to death by 30-odd points in a senior equivalent.

There have been plenty of examples of clubs making their way up the ranks from junior to senior and that gives them an opportunity to develop with plenty of games.

We need change. The weaker counties need change. But until they themselves threaten to down tools then I am afraid the GAA will continue to sit on their hands on this issue.

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