Embarrassing losses hard but you can't give up - Connerton
Published 11/11/2015 | 02:30
It's embarrassing for so-called weaker counties to suffer massive championship defeats but they can never give up hope of closing the gap.
That's the attitude Denis Connerton will take into his second coming as Longford manager, having previously held the position for three seasons in 2002-2004.
"Serious beatings are hard to accept. In fact, they're embarrassing, but all a county or a group can do is start again and work even harder at closing the gap. Otherwise, why bother playing football at all?" he said.
Connerton replaced Jack Sheedy, who guided Longford to promotion to Division 3 this year. They later beat Offaly in the Leinster Championship but were then hit by the Dublin juggernaut, losing by 4-25 to 0-10.
Longford revived the season with qualifier wins over Carlow and Clare, but they suffered another thumping defeat (2-24 to 0-11) against Kildare.
In some ways, that was more disappointing than the defeat by Dublin who have been vastly superior to the rest of Leinster for a long time.
"Dublin are miles ahead in Leinster - they are as close to unbeatable as you can get. The rest are competing for second place.
"When I look at the overall scene, I see Dublin, Kerry and Mayo as very much the top three, with Tyrone, Donegal, Cork and Monaghan challenging for fourth place. After that, there are several counties trying to get into the top half," said Connerton.
Amid the ongoing debate about the structure of the All-Ireland series, he believes that retaining the provincial championships is vital, but has reservations about the qualifier system as it currently stands.
"Initially, the qualifiers were great because they gave counties a second chance. There was the novelty value of games between counties who may have never met in the championship.
"That has worn off now. There's a mood for a shake-up but finding the right balance isn't easy. There's only so much that can be done," said Connerton.
However, he believes the concept of a Tier 2 championship for lower-ranked teams after they exit their provincial championships is worth considering. Reservations have been expressed over whether players are interested in a secondary championship, but Connerton thinks that the concept would work, provided it was properly planned and packaged.
"There's no point throwing it in, just for the sake of it. It would have to be given a proper profile and made to be important, rather than just an add-on."
The return of the Rathcline man as manager comes 11 years after he resigned following a defeat by Dublin, who had lost to Westmeath in the Leinster quarter-final, in a Round 3 qualifier.
Longford lost to Dublin by nine points after being only a point behind in the 45th minute.
It's a world apart from this year when Longford were nine points behind Dublin after 10 minutes.
Standards generally were more even back in 2004, a season which featured a special day for Longford when a late goal from Stephen Lynch earned them a 3-7 to 1-12 win over Kerry in Pearse Park in the first round of the Division 1A Allianz League campaign.
It was the worst possible start for new Kerry manager Jack O'Connor. However, seven months later, Kerry won the All-Ireland final with a team that included no fewer than 11 of the squad that lost to Longford.
It puts into context the way things have changed for Longford, but as Connerton settles in for another stint in the hot seat, his clear ambition is to drive an upward trajectory.
"We'll be starting in Division 3 which, in some ways, looks like Division 2 as it will include Kildare, who were in Division 1 a few years ago, as well as Sligo and Westmeath, who both reached provincial finals this year.
"There has been something of a pattern for teams promoted to Division 3 to slip straight back into Division 4 so avoiding that will be an early priority," said Connerton.
After that, it will be straight into the Leinster Championship against Offaly, whom Longford have beaten in each of the last two seasons. Connerton's task has been made all the harder by the fact that he will be missing several top players when Longford return to training on December 1.
Enda Williams, Ronan McIntyre, John Keegan and Barry O'Farrell are all abroad at present; Sean and Padraig McCormack are unavailable; Kevin Diffley and Shane Mulligan are injured.
Still, he is really looking forward to the challenge on what is a very different era to his first stint. So then Denis, what's the first big change you have noticed?
"Well, we didn't have WhatsApp around the last time I was there - that's for sure."