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‘Scrap provincial championships and run three-tier All-Ireland series’ - McGleenan

Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan tells Martin Breheny that it's time for a dramatic overhaul in the championship

Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Steering Cavan back into Division 1 at the first attempt is the overriding ambition for Mattie McGleenan at present but, in the longer term, he yearns for the day when all counties are part of a radically-changed All-Ireland football championship.

Whether it will ever happens is debatable but the Tyrone man believes that scrapping the provincial championships and separating the counties into three tiers in a revamped All-Ireland format would provide the summer scene with a massive burst of energy.

In addition, he proposes that rankings in the three tiers be based on finishing places in that season's Allianz League.

Regular

"The league is a great competition as it stands but it would be even more exciting if finishing places decided which championship a county played in," said McGleenan.

Under his proposal, only the top 12 finishers in the league would compete for the Sam Maguire Cup. The next 12 would compete for a Tier 2 championship, with the remaining ten in Tier 3.

He suggests that the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cups be named after Páidí ó Sé and Cormac McAnallen "to honour two great GAA men who have passed away."

The format of all three championships would be geared towards providing a regular supply of games for a set period.

"Counties get seven games in two months at this time of year but are guaranteed only two more for the rest of the year. Cavan play Donegal on May 13 and whoever loses will be in the first round of the qualifiers in early June (9th). If they lose again, the season is over.

"A lot of counties will be gone by then and won't have another game until next year. How can you build a team that way? Players want to play as many games as possible in the summer and not be finished by early June," he said.

He accepts that his proposal to scrap the provincial championships as the starting point for the All-Ireland race and limiting entry to the Sam Maguire tier to the top 12 league finishers is radical, but is adamant that it could work.

"The big success of the league is that counties are playing against teams of their own standard. If you go well you move up, if you don't, you drop down. It's that straightforward.

"Your level is set by how you are performing, not by what province you're from or anything else. If the tier a team played in the championship was decided by where they finished in the league, it would give the league a championship feel because so much depended on it," he said.

If McGleenan's format were in place last year, the following 12 teams only would have competed for the Sam Maguire Cup, with the rest in Tiers 2 and 3: Dublin, Kerry, Donegal, Monaghan, Mayo, Tyrone, Cavan, Roscommon, Galway, Kildare, Meath, Cork.

He does not accept that counties in the second and third tiers would have little interest in competitions which offered no possibility of winning the Sam Maguire Cup.

"Teams are interested in winning whatever league division they are in so why wouldn't they be interested in winning whatever championship group they were in? Nobody is being kept out of any group. Finish in the top 12 in the league and you're in the hunt for Sam Maguire," he said.

Convinced

He is convinced that with imaginative promotion, including playing the finals of all three tiers on the one weekend, running All-Star schemes for each tier and improved all-round marketing, the three-tier concept would work.

"It's better to be competing in a competition where you have a genuine chance of winning than in one where you know that's not going to happen. Just because we have done things a certain way for over a hundred years is not a good enough reason to stick with it," said McGleenan.

His immediate priority is to ensure that Cavan give themselves every chance of returning to Division 1 next year.

Despite beating Mayo and drawing with Kerry and Monaghan last year, they dropped out of the top flight. They have picked up three of a possible four points in Division 2 so a win over Meath in the rescheduled game in Kingspan Breffni Park on Sunday would take them to the top of the table.

A Meath win would see them take the No 1 spot so it's a really important game for both.

McGleenan believes that there is little difference between standards at the lower end of Division 1 and the top end of Division 2, territory which can be hard to escape from.

"We still have to play Meath, Cork, Down, Roscommon and Tipperary so points will be hard to come by. But that applies to every team in this group too. It will be close all the way - very small margins will decide who gets promoted and indeed who gets relegated.

It has taken ten or more points to get out of Division 2 in four of the last five seasons but McGleenan suspects that nine, or even eight, might be enough this year.

Remaining in Division 1 would have been hugely beneficial for Cavan but their lack of experience cost them last year.

"That's the main difference between the two divisions. When you're playing the top sides in Division 1, every mistake you make will be punished immediately.

"We got away with some mistakes against Clare (in the drawn first round game this year) but that doesn't happen in Division 1.

"Look at Kildare this year. A few mistakes here and there and they have no points when, with a bit of luck, they could have four points.

"It's tough in Division 1 but it's also important to get up there. That's where you really learn and improve. That's where we want to be," added McGleenan.

Irish Independent

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