Thursday 29 September 2016

'They have a blueprint for failure. . . I'm shocked'

Published 19/01/2016 | 02:30

Former Dublin defender and current Wicklow boss Johnny Magee believes Croke Park must do more for weaker counties. Photo: Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE
Former Dublin defender and current Wicklow boss Johnny Magee believes Croke Park must do more for weaker counties. Photo: Sam Barnes / SPORTSFILE

Daniel St Ledger recalls his first year with Carlow. It also happened to be the last year of the Tommy Murphy Cup.

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"The clubs were saying 'why don't you come with us and play in a real championship rather than that second tier competition?'," he says.

"In Carlow we struggle with the pull of clubs at the best of times but we ended up putting out the guts of a minor team plus a few more against Antrim that time."

In some ways St Ledger could be the poster boy for any new championship system designed to accommodate weaker counties. He's entering his ninth season as a Carlow player and in that time has tasted just two championship wins.

But even for him, the proposed 'B' Championship, which will go before delegates at next month's Congress, holds no appeal. "I'm shocked," comments St Ledger, who captained his county in 2015.

"They have a blueprint for failure there from the last time there was the Tommy Murphy Cup.

"There's no end goal in this proposal, no way back into the qualifiers. If there was, it would have much more appeal. What they have put forward there is almost lip service."

Hurling has been much more comfortable with being split into tiers than football and St Ledger sees some merit in the round robin system employed in the early stages of the Leinster Hurling Championship.

"In that system you get to play against teams in around your level," he says. "And if you are of the standard you go into the Leinster championship proper.

"As it stands, the Leinster Championship has lost a lot of its meaning for us. I won't say it's pointless - a Championship win is great and it did loads for the county in 2011, but Dublin are still going to be there.

Enthusiasm

"But as they are proposing there, I can't see the enthusiasm for it."

For Wicklow manager and former Dublin footballer Johnny Magee, the proposals do little to help smaller counties in their bid to close the gap on the top teams.

It's a chasm already he warns, and it is set to get even bigger unless something.

"I'm angry for the players," Magee says. "I can't understand it. If you are beaten in the Championship and then you lose the next day, you still only get two Championship games.

"And you don't know when the second game will be because it depends on when the team you are drawn against is knocked out. So it's the same as the qualifiers.

"We played two Championship games last year, we should've beaten Meath in Navan and then got drawn away to Armagh and that was it. We trained eight months for that. Two games. And this (proposal) is just the same."

Magee wants Croke Park to do more to help weaker counties succeed.He'd like more Championship games that would keep teams together for longer parts of the summer. He also argues that, more than ever, financial clout is helping the big counties pull away.

"When I was playing everyone was doing more or less the same training. Now you look at Dublin. They have brought Bryan Cullen in. That serious expertise to have at your disposal, and other counties just can't compete with that," he says.

"I'm saying this because I've seen it from both sides. Lads need more games, and give them a chance to get back into the Championship by playing off between seven or eight counties beaten in the first round.

"That'd give an incentive to lads to keep playing and you'd have them playing football at the right time of year.

"Then you'd have a chance to improve and build the mood in a county.

"The GAA are doing deals with Sky Sports, spending money on Hawk-Eye and they are bringing in blood testing for players; it is nearly professional now so things have evolved and the structures need to evolve too.

"As far as I can see there's no fairness and equality here for the so-called weaker counties.

"To have them just cut off like that (in a 'B' Championship), it's a disgrace that this is what they came up with.

"It's head in the sand stuff. Until someone makes a hard call and makes some big changes, you're just going to go around and around in circles."

The proposal will go to Congress next month in Carlow, with a two-thirds majority required if the 'B' Championship is to become a reality for teams in the bottom tier.

Irish Independent

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