Tuesday 20 August 2019

McNamee: Two-tier plan could lead to player boycott

Niall McNamee of Offaly celebrates after scoring his side's first goal
Niall McNamee of Offaly celebrates after scoring his side's first goal

Marie Crowe

Offaly footballer Niall McNamee believes players will boycott a two-tier championship if it is rushed in by the GAA later this year.

The GAA has called a special congress for October at which proposals to introduce a second-tier championship will be voted on. If passed, the changes could be in place for next season.

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But McNamee insists that players from counties who will be placed in the second tier - likely to be from the bottom two divisions of the National League - will not want to play in it.

"That would be my fear," he said, "that players won't want to play in it and there will be a fall-off in counties, that they won't be producing players, and they will just continue to play with their clubs. They won't want to play with their counties.

"Our club championship is very competitive, this year there are five or six teams that are confident they could win a championship. I feel guys will stay with their clubs because they will have a competition that they can aspire to win that will mean something to them."

The 33-year-old, who made his inter-county debut in 2003, has played in all four divisions of the league, and just a year after Offaly lost to Dublin in the 2006 Leinster final he also played in the ill-fated Tommy Murphy Cup.

"I'll be honest, I didn't want to play in it," he says. "We were promoted from Division 4 in 2008, which meant we were back into the championship proper, and my over-riding feeling from that time was that it was a kick in the teeth for players.

"At all levels players are putting in the work only to be sidelined into a competition that is seen as second class."

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He believes the proposal is being "rushed" and hasn't been properly thought-out as part of a greater strategy. He also fears that introducing a second tier will widen the gap between counties.

"I haven't played against Dublin since 2007, we don't get exposed to that level anymore," McNamee added. "Part of me doesn't rule out a tier-two or secondary competition, but with a plan that in five years' time we have eight or 10 teams in a tier-two competition with a view to having all those teams back in tier one.

"There has to be a plan around it - that teams can get back into that tier-one competition. I don't know where it is going, is it being pushed down to semi-professionalism - the top eight teams playing for themselves. I don't know if that's the case, that the GAA want that, but if it is then that's fine.

"But we need to have a conversation about it instead of bringing in a two-tier competition and not really telling anyone why it's being brought in. Do they just want to let the players play away down in the bottom tier and not have to worry about them?"

Meanwhile, the chief executive of the Gaelic Players' Association (GPA), Paul Flynn, has called on the GAA to give the new fixtures review task force - which was set up by John Horan last month - "time and space to review the overall structure of our competitions and the fixtures calendar".

Writing inside, Flynn adds: "And time is needed to listen to the views of players, and other GAA stakeholders, before putting the question to a simple 'yes' or 'no' vote."

The former Dublin footballer says the GPA is "enthusiastic" about the review group.

The GPA is represented on the task force by Ronan Sheehan.

"The hurling league and championship structures in Leinster will be key components of these discussions, but the one with the most significant momentum is the proposal for a second tier in the football championship.

"This is why the GAA's Special Congress in October on this proposal concerns us. Why push through structural changes when a dedicated committee, comprising representatives of the GAA, GPA, CPA, third-level institutions, and other stakeholders has been established to address exactly this?"

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