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Tribes' trauma fuels debate over chasm in football's hierarchy

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Mickey Harte, Tyrone manager. Picture: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

Mickey Harte, Tyrone manager. Picture: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

Mickey Harte, Tyrone manager. Picture: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

POPULAR theories are all the rage in the GAA, and here's one gaining more currency in recent times ... "Thou shalt not covet Sam Maguire from Division Two."

(For the record, achieving All-Ireland deliverance from Division Three is a theory reserved for the faintly delusional and winning it from Division Four is for the stark raving bonkers.)

But back to this argument that September is a bridge too far for teams coming from the second tier of the Allianz Football League.

Mickey Harte (pictured) made this very prediction a couple of seasons back, at a time when his own beloved Tyrone had taken a nosedive from their one-time permanent place of residence in Division One.

He was proven right that year; but then it wasn't such an outlandish forecast, was it? Armagh remain the last champions-elect to scale Everest from such a lowly base camp (Division 2A in their case) and that was 11 years ago.

Here's one Division Two team that definitely won't be lifting Sam any month soon: Galway.

This column was in Pearse Stadium on Sunday and was frankly gobsmacked by the grandiose scale of Galway's submission. Tactically suspect, technically deficient, physically blown out of the water by ravenous Mayo rivals ... in the face of admittedly stiff competition over the last half-decade, this was surely Galway's nadir.

It was hard to reconcile the gap between two counties perceived as traditional near-equals – the only real difference being that Mayo are more prolific at reaching All-Ireland finals and Galway more proficient at winning them.

So it got us thinking: was it all predicated on a more general gulf in class between Divisions One and Two?

We don't buy that theory as entirely true. Yes, it has become apparent in recent years (but especially this spring) that our top-flight elite are operating at a higher level than the eight teams directly below. The difference was exemplified by back-to-back viewing of the recent Divisions Two and One finals between Derry/Westmeath and Dublin/Tyrone.

This year was perceived, in advance, as the strongest Division One in recent memory ... as if to copper-fasten the impression, the reigning All-Ireland champions succumbed to last-day relegation.

Our own belief is that the best teams in Division One (Dublin, Tyrone, Mayo, Cork, Kerry and, yes, relegated Donegal too) are capable of scaling a peak of performance that no Division Two wannabe can hope to emulate.

But that does not equate to saying a Division Two team should be humiliated to the extent of Galway's 17-point mortification by Mayo in front of their own. A Division Two team might struggle to match the physicality, intensity and pace of, say, Dublin at full pelt ... but they should at least aspire to being competitive.

The gulf certainly should not be that great when the losing county's underage conveyor belt has produced four of the last 12 All-Ireland U21 champions.

CRUSHED

It's a moot point whether tactical naivety, a dearth of team leaders, an epidemic of individual gaffes, or a collective morale crushed by years of underachievement, are to blame for this Tribal trauma ... maybe all of the above.

But Galway's May meltdown should not be glibly dismissed as proof of an infinite chasm between Divisions One and Two.

It would be easier to make that case in a few weeks' time – if Dublin have ruthlessly crushed the just-promoted Westmeath, or if Down's spring suffering in Division One proves a better preparation than Derry's title-winning run in Division Two.

Our own belief? Mickey Harte is right: no Division Two team can hope to lift Sam next September. But that could all change next year; just ask Jim McGuinness ...


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