Thursday 18 July 2019

Marie Crowe: 'Players just want to keep the dream alive'

Dublin’s hammering of Louth provided the perfect springboard for John Horan’s proclamation. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Dublin’s hammering of Louth provided the perfect springboard for John Horan’s proclamation. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Marie Crowe

There is no disputing that change is needed in Gaelic football. But why take away the hopes of so many players who have earned the right to dream of a big day by introducing a two-tier championship? There has to be a better way.

In life, and sport, timing is everything and Dublin's hammering of Louth last Saturday provided the perfect springboard for GAA president John Horan to proclaim the need for a tiered championship two days later on RTÉ Radio.

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"There's an appetite out there within the organisation to go ahead with a tier two Championship and now is the time to grab that while the appetite is out there," said Horan.

There was plenty of support for Horan's comments in the echo chamber that is social media, but what happens when the surface is scratched a little bit deeper.

On hearing Horan's words I set about contacting players from so-called weaker counties to gauge their reaction to potentially being excluded from competing for the Sam Maguire.

I was met with frustration, suspicion, exasperation and definitely a lack of appetite. The players I contacted want change alright but they also want help - they want more resources and better structures within their counties so they can improve. They certainly don't want to be demoted to a secondary competition.

Before last weekend's Leinster quarter-final, Laois manager John Sugrue was talking structures in local publication Laois Today and he said: "Sure feck it, we'd probably be better off with a two-tier championship. We'd be better off if these kind of games didn't happen, inconveniencing lots of people who want to see the top eight play against each other. I think we should just whittle it down and have the best teams playing each other all the time and let everyone else play in back fields around the country."

His frustration is clear. He painted a very grim picture. And with resources in media outlets already stretched, how would these games be covered? Who would promote this competition? Would it be relevant?

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A GPA survey revealed last year that almost 60 per cent of the members would support splitting the championship. But two years earlier, a GPA survey showed that Division 4 teams unanimously said they would boycott a proposed 'B' championship. So it would be interesting to see the breakdown of the most recent vote, to hear exclusively from those who would be affected. It's easy for those at the top to vote for something they will never have to face.

Separating weaker counties from the chasing pack will only widen the gulf between the top and bottom and for most there will be no way back.

Having the opportunity to compete at the top level is why players spend at least nine months of the year training, eating right, skipping nights out, missing holidays and ultimately giving their all. The commitment is huge and it's the same in every county - the players in Louth and Dublin work equally as hard, surely they deserve to be treated equally.

Having more games is great, exciting ones are even better, but having meaningful ones trumps the lot. For these players, a shot at a big team, the chance to cause an upset is a bigger carrot than three tight ones in a competition no one really cares that deeply about.

There is a new generation coming through who have different values, priorities and experiences. They have more opportunities and are exposed to a whole lot more because of social media. The world is a smaller place for the next generation.

This is where the players of the future will come from. Of course playing for your county is still held in high esteem but it certainly isn't the be all and end all for many.

Will doing the same training just to play in a secondary competition hold the same appeal as a chance to slay a lion in a meaningful game? Is this something a new generation of players will commit to? I'm not so sure.

There appears to be a disconnect between those driving this second tier proposal and the generation of young people who will shape what the GAA looks like tomorrow.

As for one-sided games, no matter who Dublin play outside the top few teams at the moment, it will be a mismatch and relegating half the country won't stop that.

I speak to players on a regular basis. Every player I meet, regardless of where they are from has the same dream, they want to test themselves against the best and they want to win. It's not realistic for everyone but it should be respected.

There are other options for the GAA to consider, such as an open draw, a Super Bowl format, a Champions League style competition - these, I suspect, are all much more palatable ideas for players than having 'A' and 'B' championships.

Ultimately success starts with a dream. Why take that away from so many?

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