Mixed reaction to FRC proposals
Offaly chief Boland fears provincial switch would demotivate players
The Football Review Committee's proposals to shift counties into different provinces in an innovative way linked to league status and preliminary-round defeats have been greeted with caution by some of the counties most likely to be affected.
Offaly chairman Padraig Boland said his county had a poor record of embracing competition "gimmicks" outside the mainstream provincial championship, citing their poor record in qualifiers over the course of their 13-year history and their ambivalence to the Tommy Murphy Cup.
"I don't think there would be any great aspiration for the county's following for an Offaly team chasing a Connacht title for the sake of one game," said Boland. "We'd carry a traditional mindset in that regard unfortunately but it's a mindset that we are trying to change.
"One of the GAA's core strengths is its sense of place, starting with club, continuing with county and then on to province and that could be hard to change. When we are out of the championship, as in the provincial championship, then there is a feeling that we are out, and unfortunately results have reflected that.
Offaly were hammered by Tyrone in this year's first-round qualifier after putting up a spirited performance against Kildare in the Leinster quarter-final, a sequence that backs up Boland's point. He acknowledged that he could see where the FRC were coming from but described the provincial championship as the "elephant in the room."
If the FRC's proposal was to apply in 2014, based on 2013 league placings, then Cavan and Antrim would meet in an Ulster preliminary-round fixture, with the losers heading for the Connacht championship, while Meath, Wexford, Offaly, Wicklow, Longford and Carlow would contest the three Leinster preliminary games, with two losers bound for Munster and one for Connacht.
Antrim, Cavan and Fermanagh have been among the lowest-ranked Ulster league teams in recent years, but Antrim chairman Jim Murray said he would keep an open mind about what is involved.
"We wouldn't oppose change just for the sake of it or because something has been in place for a long time. If there is merit in it we will consider it," said Murray.
"I wouldn't get caught up on having to play in Connacht if it is beneficial. We play in two provincial hurling championships (Ulster and Leinster). But what we need to do is assess why we would find ourselves among the lowest-ranked league teams from Ulster and address that. Hopefully with new management we can do that."
One of the unusual features of what is proposed is that one of the Leinster teams could potentially win three different provincial titles in successive years.
Carlow chairman Michael Meaney welcomed the FRC's "thinking outside the box" but wondered about a county like his having the potential to lose heavily in two provincial matches before meeting a strong team in the qualifiers.
"It's food for thought and that's good but I just don't know about how a county like Carlow might end up having to play Kerry in the first round of the Munster championship. It just takes a bit of time to get the head around that one. It's something we would find difficult," he admitted.
Meaney would like to see a change in qualifiers that would keep as many Division 3 and 4 teams together in a section away from the stronger teams for as long as possible.
"I'm not that much in favour of qualifiers as they currently are. I would prefer to see a structure where Division 3 and 4 teams play qualifiers of their own, with the winners of that particular section rejoining the championship at quarter-final stage as a reward. That way you are linking league status with the championship and giving less successful counties an incentive.
"We haven't had a lot of luck with our qualifier games. I'd say we have got more Division 1 teams than Division 4 teams, which seems strange because you would imagine it is Division 4 teams that would be out earliest. We've played Donegal, Derry, Down, Laois the last two years. We just haven't had the best of luck with the draw."