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19th Sep 2018

Horan’s two tiered championship vision would prevent another Carlow Rising

Michael Corry

Horan two tier

With Dublin’s continued dominance seemingly getting stronger, it is hard not to flirt with the idea that a senior and intermediate championship may well be beneficial for Gaelic football.

Speaking at the launch of the ESRI report, ‘Playing Senior Inter-County Gaelic Games Experiences, Realities, and Consequences’.  GAA president John Horan said that he believes splitting the football championship is more of an inevitability than a possibility at this stage.

Horan also revealed that central council have written to all counties for their thoughts on what form a two-tier championship should take.

Speaking to he said, “We discussed it the last day at Central Council… We put it to the floor for just a straw poll opinion. Every hand went up, everybody was of the view that it should happen.

“We have written to the counties and we have asked them to come back with what they feel should be the make-up of a tier two competition. We will take on board what they have to offer and we will present it.

“We are doing a bit of research as well into the performance of the Division Three and Four teams in the qualifiers in the last few years and see have they benefited or have they gained anything out of it.

“Have they beaten Division One or Two teams or are any wins they are getting in the qualifiers solely coming from beating Division Three or Four teams?”

Horan two tier

Horan shared his vision for a two tiered championship that would rule out Division Three and Four teams from competing, unless they reach their provincial final.

“It would mean that those teams that go into tier two wouldn’t play in the qualifiers, that the qualifiers would be a smaller competition restricted to maybe teams – and this is my own personal speculation on this – teams that are in Division One or Two or teams that get to a provincial final.”

In theory, this sounds like a plausible idea, split the teams up and have the weaker counties fight it out for a ‘B’ championship, unless they make a provincial final.

Horan two tier

Try telling that to Kieran McGeeney. 

Geezer’s Armagh side navigated their way through the qualifiers to an All-Ireland quarter final in 2017. In 2018 they were within a whisker of making the inaugural super 8 series. Both seasons they came out of Division Three.

Try telling that to Colm Collins.

His Clare side were beaten by Tipperary in the 2016 Munster semi final, but they rallied back to make it through the qualifiers to contest a first ever All-Ireland quarter final. Again, a Division Three side.

Try telling that to Turlough O’Brien.

The Carlow rising was the story of the championship. Carlow made it all the way to a Leinster semi-final beating Kildare en route before getting their chance to test themselves against eventual All-Ireland finalists, Tyrone. Division Four.

Try telling that to Pete McGrath.

When the Down legend managed Fermanagh in 2015 they made it all the way through the back door to an All-Ireland quarter final where they gave the Dubs a mini scare. Division Three.

Horan two tier

None of these sides made their respective provincial finals, yet all of them made a big splash in the championship that year.

It is unfair of John Horan to completely dismiss Division Three and Four teams as not being fit to compete in the top tier. It is also to easy to suggest that splitting the championship should come down to what league you compete in.

Horan talks about making a tiered championship appealing to everybody, and he makes a solid point when referencing how successful it has been in other Gaelic sports.

“It’s about how you present it to people and get people to buy into it and then hopefully you will deliver it,” he said.

“If we played it (a Tier Two Final) in front of the All-Ireland Final, picked an All Stars team from it and we allowed them to go on an All Star tour, and I think whatever team is involved might get the right to be in the qualifiers for the following year if their status hasn’t risen out of the League.

“Look, it works in Ladies football. It works in camogie and it works in hurling. I just can’t see why there is such a major resistance to it in football, but it’s there.”

Horan has done well at selling his prospect of a two tier championship, that is his job though.

Horan two tier

Where he is completely missing the point is this view that Division Three and Four teams should only be able to compete if they make their respective provincial final. Bullshit!

Armagh, Carlow, Clare and Fermanagh as well as many other teams since 2001 (qualifier introduction) have proved that you don’t need to reach a provincial final in order to compete and be successful.

The GAA need to realise that if we are to split the football championship in two, then we need to take the provincial system out of the equation. They are doing nothing but holding back championship restructures.

Now, I am not saying that we should do away with the four provinces. I understand how important they are to players and to fans.

What I am saying is that we need to cut ties between the provincial series and the All-Ireland series. It is the only way forward.

For a team like Antrim to come out of Division Four and know that they need to make an Ulster final in order to enter the qualifiers is wrong on every level. Why can’t we make them totally separate competitions.

Let the nine Ulster teams, twelve Leinster, six Munster and seven Connacht (New York and London) fight it out for provincial glory.

The number of teams in each province already causes an imbalance. If we were to proceed with Horan’s vision, this would only get worse.

Horan two tier

Then structure the All-Ireland series into a champions league style format. Eight groups of four, with the top 16 competing for the senior All-Ireland and the bottom 16 competing for the Intermediate or ‘B’ All-Ireland.

Each year different teams will be going up and down. This will also ensure that each county enters the season with that dream of winning Sam Maguire. They won’t be playing for a ‘B’ championship from January, that will come as a conciliation prize.

We can use the league standings to seed teams before the group stages, so there is one team from each division in a group.

Horan two tier

We can do away with McKenna Cups, O’Byrne Cups and FBD Leagues, and instead run the League from mid-January through to mid-February. Getting rid of league finals will free up space as they are already unnecessary. If you finish top you win the league, second gains promotion, bottom two get relegated. Simple.

Then run-off the provincial championships over a two month period in April and May. Let teams fight it out for provincial glory. Market the provincials as a historic cup competition, like the FA Cup used to be.

Then have your champions league style format throughout the summer. After the group stages, split the teams into senior and intermediate.

Give every team a chance of being able to compete for the holy grail. Telling counties they are already inferior because they are in Division Four will not work.

If the GAA go ahead with John Horan’s vision of what a tiered championship should be, then the Carlow Rising will have happened for nothing.

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