Thursday 23 February 2017

Third tier can show first-class potential

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

IN 1986, Laois won the Allianz Football League title from Division 3, beating Down, Dublin and Monaghan in the knockout stages to land the big prize for the first time since 1926.

Unlike nowadays when the GAA can't quite figure out how best to complete the NFL -- the format has been changed again this year with the reintroduction of semi-finals in Division 1 -- all four divisions were represented in the knockout stages back in the 1980s.

The lower two divisions got their winners into the quarter-finals, Division 2 had two qualifiers while Division 1 had four representatives.

It was a very interesting system, which provided huge incentives for counties in the lower groupings as they looked forward to clashing with Division 1 opposition in quarter-finals.

Indeed, Laois embraced the opportunity so enthusiastically in 1986 that they powered past three of their so-called 'betters' to complete a spring adventure that electrified the county.

Teams in Division 3 don't have the same opportunity nowadays and that is a pity, because there is no doubt the winners would love a shot at Division 1 opposition in a quarter-final.

The group is competitive enough to produce winners who would be well equipped to take their chance against higher-ranked opposition. It includes:

• Wexford, who might well have beaten Dublin in last year's Leinster final if they hadn't conceded an own goal.

• Roscommon, the 2010 Connacht champions.

• Sligo and Louth, 2010 runners-up in Connacht and Leinster respectively.

• Longford -- very much on the up.

• Offaly, who beat Division 1 side Monaghan in last year's qualifiers.

TOMOrROW

Division 4: A tough new world for Peter Canavan's launch as a manager in a group where it usually takes at least 12 points (from a possible 16) to win promotion.

Irish Independent

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