Monday 16 October 2017

'I don't know any sport that works like the GAA'

Former Wicklow manager Johnny Magee says the Super 8s ‘is a blatant slap in the face’ to weaker counties Sportsfile. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Former Wicklow manager Johnny Magee says the Super 8s ‘is a blatant slap in the face’ to weaker counties Sportsfile. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Johnny Magee was quite honest when he stated, "I'm not bleedin' Dumbledore, I can't wave a magic wand" during his first year at the Wicklow helm and despite several demands for structural reform, most have fallen on deaf ears.

Magee felt it was the right time to step away from the Garden post at the weekend and while there may have been little in the way of groundbreaking results to show for his four-year stint - one as a coach and three as manager - his admiration for counties like Wicklow has grown.

Coming from football powerhouses like Dublin and Kilmacud Crokes, Magee had little appreciation for the plight of those "so-called weaker counties" operating in the lower tiers, but he now feels they should be rewarded with something tangible for their efforts in a failing system.

"I've huge admiration for counties like Wicklow. They just want to come and play county football and represent their jersey. They have no guarantees that they're going to get many games in the summer and that's testament to the resolve of those guys," Magee said.

"That's where I feel they're being let down, by not giving them something to help them fulfil a dream. They need to sit down with players and managers and come up with a tangible solution, something substantial and respectful for the effort they're putting in."

Roscommon had not even entered the championship fray by the time Wicklow were knocked out of the Qualifiers, losing by three points to Laois, and their wait for another meaningful encounter will stretch all the way to 2018.

With the gap getting wider between the leaders and the pack, as shown by Dublin's 31-point hammering of Division 4 champions Westmeath on Sunday, Magee can't fathom why they must wait so long for more action and believes it greatly hinders their growth.

"The big problem is that the lads don't have an official football match for seven months, until January. Whatever work we have done this season all goes out the window because they won't be training again until mid-November," he said

"That's five months away for these lads. If you're getting to August and to the latter stages you've far less of a lay-off and it doesn't take them half as long to get back to speed. It's bananas really, I don't know any other sport that has something like that."

Solution

Finding a solution to football's ills is never easy and Magee is not keen on an All-Ireland 'B' Championship as it makes players feel "second-rate". However, he concedes it could work if it was given the appropriate standing and if it was played as a curtain-raiser to the Sam Maguire Cup decider.

His preferred solution, though, is to pit those defeated in the opening stages of the provincial championships together in groups, be it two or four groups, to ensure that developing sides can continue to progress and rejoin the All-Ireland campaign at a later stage.

"My preference would be for all the losers from their first provincial game to go into two groups, or even four groups, and then the top two of each goes back into the All-Ireland at the latter stages. At least then you're guaranteed loads of competitive games," the former Dublin defender said.

"Over time players will stay and not go off to the States if they're guaranteed more games and they're still vying to win the All-Ireland.

"Over a few years teams will improve; all lads want is to be playing five or six games during the summer and getting better.

"That's part of the reason why players don't commit to county football, it's no longer the pride of the jersey, especially with that commitment. That's not just in Wicklow, that's all around the country, fellas going on J1s and lads thinking 'what's the point?' and it has to be sorted quickly.

"Why can't they replicate the Super 8s for the so-called weaker teams. The Super 8 thing is a blatant slap in the face and they didn't come up with anything for the weaker counties."

Magee handed 22 championship debuts in his six championship matches in charge and acknowledges that progress in counties like Wicklow "doesn't happen overnight", but he feels assistance from the GAA would benefit them, and others, greatly.

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