Thursday 22 August 2019

Michael Verney: 'Horan must have 'B' Championship on top of GAA's A-list to serve its purpose'


John Horan must back competition. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
John Horan must back competition. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

The possibility of a tiered football championship has been mooted for a long time, but it appears that prospect is nearing reality.

GAA president John Horan has made no bones about hoping that football would follow hurling's lead and open the door to different tiers, and three proposals will be put on the table to gauge the interest in a 'B' Championship.

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Should those plans be given the green light, a two-tier football championship could be in operation as soon as next summer, with Horan's 2020 vision expected to be rubber-stamped at Congress.

Horan has regularly lobbied his view that football needs a change and earlier this month - at the launch of hurling's lower-tiered championships, where he took a broadside at RTÉ and other media for "chasing the numbers" with regards to the games they air on television - he made his position crystal clear.

"Our football counterparts could learn an awful lot from hurling about the benefit of tiered championships," Horan said. "Carlow are a shining example to us in terms of the merit of these competitions and the progress which they've made."

Horan believes tiered hurling games are a "great concept" which provide a "progression opportunity" for those involved, but learning from the small ball should not stop there for the GAA hierarchy.

It's all well and good creating new competitions and presuming that it will appease everyone, but talk is cheap and the GAA must put their money where their mouth is to ensure exposure for lower tiers.

The GAA is 'driven by numbers' as much as anyone else and the lack of promotion around the inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup last summer is a classic example, as only devout followers knew what was going on despite the drama which ensued.

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Westmeath hurler Tommy Doyle summed up the lack of coverage succinctly, saying: "The neutral hurling supporters are being deprived of seeing the likes of Neil McManus in Antrim, Paddy Purcell and Charles Dwyer in Laois and Eoiny Price in my own county.

"You get to see the likes of Cian Lynch and Aaron Gillane and the Kilkennys and Seamus Callanan on the telly probably every weekend. People don't get to see the McDonagh Cup lads on television and see how good they actually are."

Second tier doesn't justify second-rate treatment and yet last year's McDonagh Cup final took place at the same time as Cork battled Clare in the Munster SHC decider.

Such own goals kill any hope that a brilliant competition has of flourishing and were it not for the Snapchat stories of Buff Egan and the tireless work of TG4, few would ever see what lower tiers have to offer.

There's no way top-tier hurling counties would be treated as shabbily as their McDonagh, Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher counterparts, who only received confirmation of their fixtures the month before the championships commenced.

Will the same happen with a 'B' football championship? If it does, it will disappear into the ether without a trace like the Tommy Murphy Cup.

The amount of changes made is often spouted by GAA chiefs in their progress reports, but change must bring about improvement. Otherwise, it's meaningless and outside of the Liam MacCarthy counties, hurling's situation is far bleaker than any suit would ever document.

The gaps from tier to tier are monstrous, as outlined by former Waterford footballer-hurler Donie Breathnach, who fears that football could follow suit unless it is given the requisite prestige to blossom.

"Hurling has become slightly elitist. The top teams seem to get better and the teams outside that are largely going more towards the periphery. I would hate to see football going the same way," Breathnach said last week.

"If the tier two is to happen it needs to be given priority for the first year or two certainly. There has to be a prestigious element to it. If you are going to do it, you have to give the games the right promotion."

Playing semi-finals and finals before the biggest games in the football calendar is not an option but a necessity, if the "appetite" Horan describes for a second tier is to be fed.

Otherwise, it will get lost further in the noise and create bigger chasms, with lower-tiered counties likely to be crippled by an increased dropout rate that is already threatening their survival.

To borrow some lyrics from the 1980s pop duo Wham!, "if you're gonna do it, do it right" and the GAA need to have a 'B' Championship on their 'A-list' for it to serve its purpose.

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