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Old system can bring back the buzz


Larry Tompkins

Larry Tompkins

Larry Tompkins

Larry Tompkins has called on the GAA authorities to accept the reality of Covid-19 and reintroduce a straight knockout championship this summer.

And the Leeside legend has been backed by his former Meath rival, Martin O'Connell, who believes that removing the safety net of the qualifiers would breathe life into the provincial championships - even in Leinster where Dublin have monopolised the Delaney Cup for 14 of the last 15 seasons.

With all GAA activity in lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, the timing and structure of this year's inter-county senior championships have been thrown into uncertainty.

Some observers are even starting to question if they will happen at all, given the doubts about when mass public gatherings - and not just sport itself - will be allowed to resume.

Drastic times call for drastic measures, but Tompkins is convinced that reverting to the traditional structure could prove a triumph in adversity for players and supporters alike.

"Being realistic, what should happen, there should be a knockout championship and just go back to the old system," Tompkins said.

"Please God we'll get up and running by the end of May or June maybe, but it has to be knockout.

"I think you've got to realise that you don't have the time now. But what you'd see, I think you'd have a hell of a championship," he predicted.

"Guys will be coming in fresh, hungry, really have a fierce appetite for it, and I think a knockout championship would be great."

In the increasingly likely event of a constricted time window, Tompkins would banish the football qualifiers, in place since 2001, and also the Super 8s. He would also abandon the provincial round-robin groups in hurling.

"If you have time, do your provincial championships knockout, and the same as you go through the All-Ireland process," he suggested.

"I think there's an awful lot of over-collective training being done. I was a great man to train, but I loved training on my own.

"Guys are coming in with county scenes and they're exhausted when they're coming in to play games, and that's where you need an appetite and a freshness."

The Kildare native, who achieved national renown as a two-time All-Ireland winner with his adopted Cork, argued that too much is asked of the modern generation of county stars … but the current crisis could offer a window of opportunity to lessen the load.

"You know and I know, there's way too many games. Look at the Munster hurling championship - sure they're 'flahing' players. It's week on, week off; it's non-stop. And how can you keep it going? They're not professionals," he reminded.

"And then what's happening is that supporters don't look forward to games anymore. There's no build-up anymore because (when) there's one game finished, they're playing again the following weekend.


"You guys writing about it, that's what builds up the games … with Kerry and Cork, with Meath and Dublin, what builds up the rivalry is the space of time between the games and the appetite for it."

Back in Tompkins' heyday, the most famous rivalry of all was that between Cork and Meath, who shared four All-Irelands on the spin between 1987 and 1990.

Straight knockout was the order of the day then … and Martin O'Connell, the Meath defender who was subsequently named on the GAA's football team of the millennium, reckons it is the obvious solution to this latest crisis.

"When I was playing you had one crack at it, you had one game; if you won it you kept going, if you lost you were out. Maybe they'll do it that way," he ventured.

O'Connell can see two options: an open draw involving all counties, or a return to knockout provincial fare.

"We don't know how long this is going to go on. It could go on for another two weeks - or for two months," he said.

"You still have two rounds of the league - now, whether that's going to be scrapped, I don't know.

"It's just the preparation. If you play your championship, you've no training done, you've no challenge matches done, you've no group training done together, no tactics done - it's going to be very, very hard to start off straight away when the championship is ready to start. I think they'll have to delay it a little bit, and then just have it as knockout."

His preferred option would be the old format. "I think it would bring more bite to the Leinster championship - I think it'd bring more bite to all the championships," the three-time All-Ireland winner surmised.

"At the moment you are probably looking at Dublin to win Leinster and Kerry to win Munster and Galway probably to win Connacht and then Ulster is almost Donegal or Tyrone. So, if it was back to the way I used to play, I think lads would give the Leinster a huge go at it. And the same everywhere else."

•Larry Tompkins' epic footballing life story will be told in a book due for release later this summer, published by his old Meath adversary Liam Hayes of Hero Books, who also published Martin O'Connell's autobiography, Royal Blood, last autumn.