Wednesday 21 August 2019

'There's a huge disconnect' - Why GAA elitism could prevent a tiered championship from closing the gap

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney

John Morley

The rise of elitism in Gaelic football has seen the gap between the top teams and the bottom teams grow to such an extent, that the Leinster championship is overwhelmingly seen as Dublin's to lose, with the bookies odds at 1/80 in favour of Jim Gavin's men.

There have been calls from all circles of the GAA for a tiered championship, be it from the Club Players Association or GAA managers and players, that allows all counties to compete at a level suitable to their abilities.

However, some notable critics to the idea of a tiered championship believe the weaker counties would be forgotten about in a second tier competition.

Chief Sports Writer for the Irish Independent, Vincent Hogan, highlighted that while the tiered championship is needed, it will not bridge the gap between the elite and amateur county teams.

He recalled a discussion he had with Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney. McGeeney stated that his team were no more professional than teams like Wicklow, as they only trained two nights a week as a team.

"The point [Hogan] made to Kieran was; Are you telling me that at least four other nights of the week, your players aren't expected to be doing something to be better players for Armagh? Because, if they're not, they won't be at the races," said Hogan on The Throw-In podcast, in association with Bord Gáis Energy.

"I think this is a more important debate and I'm not sure what solution there is, because I think the genie is out of the bottle here for the GAA because, they have this elite game, that is magnificent to watch, when two equally matched teams play, but underneath it, there's this point of separation and I think a two-tier championship is going to accentuate that point," Hogan added.

The Herald's Frank Roche believes this rise of elitism makes it impossible for the smaller counties like Leitrim to ambush Dublin, therefore illustrating the need for a tiered system, if only for a more level playing field.

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"You've got Dublin, a city of one point whatever million people, are they're competing against Leitrim? A county of thirty odd thousand? It can't happen. Maybe once upon a time, when Dublin weren't so organised it could," he said.

But, more and more of those people from these counties in the western seaboard aren't even living there anymore," said Roche.

Investment and sponsorship are a major problem when trying to sell the idea of a tiered championship to smaller counties. Will the championship get the television and media coverage necessary to keep big sponsors? According to Hogan, the way the smaller teams are currently covered would suggest not.

"This is a huge problem for the GAA, that there's this huge disconnect that people are feeling and frustration and anger that we just want to see the big games. Us in the media, because we're so strained, we just cover the big side of it," said Hogan.

"And these people are saying; We're GAA members too, what about us? Who's focusing on us? And all they hear is a two-tier championship and they see that as; push them down, push them out of here, they're only irritating us," he added.

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