Friday 14 December 2018

Horan's two-tier plan will be hard sell after previous failures


GAA president John Horan plans to engage with lower-ranked counties. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
GAA president John Horan plans to engage with lower-ranked counties. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Comment: Martin Breheny

There's merit in John Horan's support for a two-tier football championship, a target he has set for the latter end of his presidency, but he will be starting with some serious drawbacks. It has been tried before at various times and didn't work.

Responsibility for those failures rests mainly with the manner in which the secondary competitions were structured. Indeed, you would be forgiven for thinking that they were set up to fail.

"I think if we put it together properly, we may get engagement. I think the previous attempt to put together such a competition didn't come to fruition," the new GAA president told the 'Herald'.

He was referring to the botched attempt to launch a 'B' championship for Division 4 counties, a proposal that emerged from Central Council and was due to go before Congress in 2016.

"Good luck with that but teams won't play in it," was the blunt message from the GPA, forcing Central Council to withdraw the motion on the eve of Congress.

It was an indictment of them that the best they could come up with was a secondary competition for eight counties.

If that weren't unimaginative enough they labelled it the All-Ireland 'B' championship, scarcely a title to enthuse players or the public.

Besides, if they had asked those who have been around the circuit a long time, we would have reminded them what happened to a previous 'B' championship.

Running from 1990 to 2000, it started promisingly enough (apart from the cold December day in Navan in 1992 when one handle snapped off in Kevin O'Brien's hand as the Wicklow captain raised the cup after winning the final) but ran out of momentum over the years.

But then the GAA authorities never gave the impression that they cared much about it.

Seán Kelly oversaw the relaunch of a secondary competition during his presidency, insisting that the final of the Tommy Murphy Cup be played in Croke Park as curtain-raiser to a big championship game.

It ran from 2004 to 2008 before disappearing from the schedule too, with few protests from those it was supposed to benefit.

Now, Horan has included another secondary competition on his list of presidential ambitions, although it won't come up for formal discussion until 2020 when the next football championship review is due.

This time, he plans to engage extensively with lower-ranked counties, presumably with a view to persuading them that there's more to be gained from playing in a secondary competition than entering the All-Ireland qualifiers series.

That will be a harder sell than it might appear. Whereas hurlers are happy to play in graded competitions, footballers want to remain part of the main events, whether in provincial championships or qualifiers.

But then, they have seen how little promotion went into secondary competitions in the past.

If a new one is to work, it will need to be structured and promoted in a manner that shows the GAA are totally committed to the concept.

It includes playing the final as a curtain-raiser to the All-Ireland final, rather than reserving that prized slot for U-17s from stronger counties, as is usually the case with the minor grade.

Of course, any review will ultimately have to address the blatant inequality in having the provincial championship as the starting base.

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