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Ciaran Whelan: Weaker counties must first get real - then unite and take a stand

13 May 2018; Jamie Snell of Wicklow in action against Conor Carroll of Offaly during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Preliminary Round match between Offaly and Wicklow at O'Moore Park in Laois. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
13 May 2018; Jamie Snell of Wicklow in action against Conor Carroll of Offaly during the Leinster GAA Football Senior Championship Preliminary Round match between Offaly and Wicklow at O'Moore Park in Laois. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Ciaran Whelan

OVER the past few days, I received a fair degree of opinion and reaction to my comments on The Sunday Game last weekend in relation to the circumstances that the weaker counties find themselves in.

I think it’s fair to say that my comments were misconstrued by some but that’s understandable to a degree as it’s quite an emotive topic and clarity can be difficult to achieve when discussing this matter within a short space of time on a Sunday night. It is even worse when you cannot stop Pat Spillane talking!

My main argument was that weaker counties need to stand up and be counted and that still holds as far as I’m concerned.

Everyone is in agreement that the current structures are not favourable for those on the lower rungs of the Championship ladder but in some cases, those counties are not doing enough to support their players and make the best of the resources that they possess.

My critics will naturally suggest that it’s easy for someone from Dublin, blessed with all the sponsorship that the county enjoys, to make comments such as these but I would hope that people see me as a fair individual who would seek the greater good for all and not just an elite few counties.

There is a huge divide across counties and that divide is only expanding due to a lack of realism from certain counties in relation to their ambitions and goals in both the short-term and further down the line.

The main question that I would seek clarity on is why do many of the weaker counties struggle to get their best players on the pitch come the Championship? Is it a lack of ambition or is that there is nothing to be ambitious about? Does the odd Championship win every few years make the hours of graft, commitment and hard training worthwhile? I’m not sure it does anymore for the new generation of players.

I would feel that the current structures are not suitable for many counties but by refusing to accommodate the prospect of a second tier competition, they are leaving themselves with very little room to manoeuvre in relation to their long-term development over each summer.

These counties need to come together and agree on a format that benefits them all because at present, the system is not suiting them at all. 

As a result of this, a lot of counties have focussed their energies on the National League as they can have tangible goals and ambitions to strive for as they are generally playing on a level playing field in terms of ability and resources.

That’s all well and good for some and the scenes that greeted Carlow’s promotion from Division 4 earlier this spring were heartening to any genuine supporter of Gaelic football.

However, their talisman, Brendan Murphy, has since left the panel for the summer and without questioning his motives, it’s a disappointing development when discussing the relevance of the Championship.

Resources are, of course, an issue but nobody would disagree that some of the weaker counties need more financial and professional support from GAA headquarters to help them manage their affairs.

Some of these counties have suffered from a lack of vision at administration level and have not invested their financial resources wisely.

For example, I have seen far too much money wasted on outside mangers in recent years, with no evidence of any progress in some counties.

Of course, this approach has had isolated successes with both Malachy O’Rourke (left) and Liam Kearns springing to mind but in truth, they arrived into counties with decent structures and development plans in place.

In my opinion, outside managers are a failed model for a lot of the weaker counties and when results aren’t produced immediately, that outside manager becomes an easy target when the court of public parochial opinion begins to hold sway with the players, which ultimately can lead to a divisive dressing room very quickly.

It’s depressing to witness so many counties spending limited resources on what is a failed model when really their focus and energies should be directed to ensuring their players are given the best opportunity to play competitive and rewarding football over the summer months.

That conversation brings us nicely and seamlessly ahead to Sunday’s match in Portlaoise where Dublin make their Championship bow against Wicklow.

It really is a David v Goliath clash and highlights the imbalance that is a regular factor in the early rounds of the Championship.

Of course, I would agree with most observers in that it is deeply regrettable that the match hasn’t been arranged for Aughrim.

This decision has taken away any minor advantage that Wicklow might have enjoyed and has also taken a degree of romanticism from the fixture.

I would imagine that Jim Gavin will see this as an ideal opportunity to hand championship experience to the likes of Brian Howard and Colm Basquel, players who saw plenty of football over the National League.

There’s also a slight chance that players such as Paul Flynn and less so Jack McCaffrey may be involved at some stage, as they continue their return to full match fitness.

Sunday would be an ideal opportunity to re-introduce them onto the pitch if they are fully fit for intercounty action.

As always, Wicklow will not lack effort and endeavour come Sunday but if the Dubs are in the right mood it could prove a very long 70-plus minutes for Wicklow.

I have no doubt the Wicklow players will embrace the occasion and John Evans will milk the occasion for all its worth to instill belief into his players. Miracles only happen if you believe in miracles .

Herald Sport

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