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President baulks at new format

LIAM O'NEILL has issued a stirring defence of the GAA's provincial championship system and suggested that a Champions League-style alternative could prove something of a mid-summer killjoy.

The GAA president attended last Sunday's Ulster SFC final in Clones, where jubilant Donegal fans celebrated the county's first ever provincial back-to-back, and claims you would struggle to replicate such scenes if the provincial system was dropped.

O'Neill's message to advocates of the Champions League format was that they should be careful what they wish for.

He explained: "The message that's coming home to me is that when a brand is working and you seek to change that brand, you'd want to be sure that the second one is always going to be stronger than what you change from. That's important.

"I'd be slow to change the provincial championships until I was very, very sure that what I saw in Clones would be replicated somewhere else halfway along the way in an open draw/Champions League type format.

"I don't think you could generate that type of excitement. I don't think that any sort of serious league games could generate the excitement generated by Galway's win over Kilkenny and the fact that they were given the O'Keeffe Cup.

"Whoever comes up with a format, they just have to be sure that they are going to come with something stronger than what we already have ... because what we already have, while allowing that is has faults, is still very, very good."

As for the pitch invasion that greeted Donegal's triumph, O'Neill admitted: "We'd all prefer if people stayed off the pitch but I think the stewards handled it very, very well. People came on the pitch and once they come on the pitch, you stand back because you cannot try to control it.



Restrained

"I thought it was managed very well and that there was no danger and there was no great crush. It was very restrained - there was excitement but it was controlled excitement and managed excitement."

The Laois man hit the headlines in the wake of his April inauguration when he referred to some of the handpass-dominated, defensive football being played today as "boring". However, he has been won over by the quality to date of this year's football championship.

"If you remember I never criticised football," O'Neill clarified. "I said certain tactics in football were making the game that dreadful word [boring] which I was quoted but I am not going to repeat here.

"I did say at that time that the All-Ireland colleges final and the under-21 final in football this year were examples that when Gaelic football is played in an offensive manner by skilful teams, there is no better spectacle.

"Given that the games have been so competitive, it is laudable that teams have gone on the offensive and we are seeing the results. I mean, 2-18 was a fantastic score by Donegal last Sunday," he added.

SLIGO have rejected Kildare claims that playing next Saturday's SFC qualifier in Roscommon's Dr Hyde Park gives them an unfair advantage.

"It happens to be the venue where we lost a Connacht final only last Sunday week - I don't know how anyone can argue that that's a positive for us," countered Sligo chairman Cyril Feehily.