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skelly: If it ain't broke...

Leinster GAA chief Martin Skelly has issued a defiant declaration that the provincial football championships should not be abandoned or even tweaked in favour of a more streamlined format involving four eight-team conferences.

Leinster GAA chief Martin Skelly has issued a defiant declaration that the provincial football championships should not be abandoned or even tweaked in favour of a more streamlined format involving four eight-team conferences.

He also insists that, so long as Leinster football finals can attract 70,000-strong crowds as happened last year, it wouldn't make any sense to tear up the traditional script.

"Why should we do away with something that's going to generate huge crowds?" asked Skelly, speaking at yesterday's Croke Park launch of this year's Leinster senior hurling and football championships.

LOPSIDED

The lopsided provincial format – where you have 11 teams competing for Leinster SFC glory, compared to nine in Ulster, six in Munster and seven (including London and New York) in Connacht – has long been a source of contention.

More evenly balanced alternatives – including four groups of eight, loosely based on the provinces – have been advocated in several quarters.

But this would entail ripping up current provincial boundaries and Skelly – whose native Longford are frequently touted for a metaphorical jump across the Shannon into Connacht – is implacably opposed to such a move.

For the record, he openly favours Antrim and London playing in the Leinster SHC and hailed Galway's historic Leinster victory last summer for its transformative effect on the entire All-Ireland hurling championship.

But shifting Longford into Connacht would be a step too far. "There are one or two counties being talked about as being pushed out into another province. I would see that as a retrograde step, and I think it belittles those counties that would be asked to shift," Skelly declared.

"It would obviously be counties on the periphery of maybe Connacht or Munster that would be asked to be shifted. And the bottom line is, if you're from Leinster, you're from Leinster and you play in the competition.

"The Leinster championship, as a stand-alone competition, has its own tradition, its own right; it's much sought after. Also the proceeds are so, so important for each and every one of the counties."

When specifically asked about the 'four conferences of eight' option, Skelly countered: "Everybody is talking about sending Longford to Connacht. But has anybody asked the people of Longford where they want to play, or where their tradition is?

"Is anybody talking about moving Kilkenny into Munster hurling, for instance, to even off numbers? Who are going to be the other teams that will make up the eight in Connacht? Is it Donegal are going to be asked to leave (Ulster football)? The one county that's being talked about the whole time is Longford."

The Leinster chairman conceded that their two flagship events have been dominated in recent years by Dublin (in football) and Kilkenny (in hurling).

As a counter-argument, he cited the "buzz" generated by Galway's Leinster SHC triumph; the bumper crowd of 69,657 for last year's Dublin/Meath football decider; and also the large crowds attracted to provincial venues during the earlier Leinster rounds, with a consequent boom for local businesses.

Meanwhile, as underlined by this year's Leinster fixtures schedule, Skelly said he favours a move towards more first and second-round games played on a home-and-away basis.


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