When someone is new on the scene, they usually come in and go about their business quietly. They keep schtum for a while, get the lay of the land and try not to rattle any cages. Not so Billy O’Loughlin.
It was more of a crash, bang, wallop from the newly-appointed Longford senior football boss last weekend when he made no apology for the fact that the Leinster SFC – which he claimed “has been defunct for years” – was of little relevance to his squad during the course of this season.
Longford’s upcoming Division 3 league campaign and the seven group games where they will face off against a similar standard of opposition is all that’s on O’Loughlin’s mind, as championship is an irrelevance, with “little to no emphasis” placed on it by the Laois native.
“Our championship is starting in two weeks’ time down in Limerick. We’ve seven championship matches in Division 3 and, after that, we don’t really mind what happens. That’s what’s important to us,” O’Loughlin explained.
It’s difficult to imagine golfer Shane Lowry showing such indifference to the Masters or Irish soccer skipper Séamus Coleman claiming that the World Cup is of little value to them, but O’Loughlin’s words are yet another indictment of a failing system.
The football championship in its current guise is no longer fit for purpose, with many weaker counties standing little chance. Arriving for a championship outing is like preparing for a shootout without a gun, it is no longer a fair fight.
The marquee competition of the football calendar is no longer deserving of that status for more than half of the participants, with only a handful of realistic winners at the outset of each year, while many of the rest target the league – much like O’Loughlin stated – as there are a steady stream of games against teams at their standard.
O’Loughlin was an outsider last season, but he’s quickly learning from the inside that little has changed since former Longford boss Denis Connerton spoke of how 40pc of his invitations to players onto the county squad were declined six years ago.
O’Loughlin said of that struggle: “When you’re trying to entice players into a county panel, from a Division 3 or a Division 4 standpoint, if all they have to aim for is a league that they can win, that people disregard . . . they see no merit in coming in and training for six months to play in a championship that Longford haven’t won since the ’60s.
“They’re not stupid. What we want to do is entice guys in to play for Longford and hopefully, a year or two down the line, they have a competition where we’re playing against our peers and there’s something to win,” he said.
Shane Ronayne is of a similar view. He spent much of his career managing various ladies football sides to success, but he stepped into the male sphere last year with Munster minnows Waterford and a rude awakening came his way.
The current Cork ladies boss felt the defeat of ‘proposal B’ at Special Congress was “disingenuous” to all involved with inter-county football as the Déise waited 200 days for their next competitive tie after last year’s comprehensive provincial quarter-final defeat to Limerick.
“Last year was just very demoralising,” Ronayne said. “A lot of those Waterford players went out last year and they got beaten by Limerick and that was it, like. That was it for the season, and that’s a long time to fester considering games improve players. The reality is that last year we’d two league games, played a league semi-final and played a championship game.”
Ronayne, along with O’Loughlin and many others at the inter-county coalface, is praying that those voting at next month’s GAA Congress “can see the light” as he feels “freshness” is needed to the championship format if it is to become relevant for all its participants once again.
That starts with a decision set to be made this weekend around championship reform as the merits of the ‘green’ and ‘red’ proposals go before Central Council, with the former set for significant backing.
O’Loughlin lamented weaker counties being “cannon fodder for years” in Leinster, that has to change.
Many counties are hoping to win the lottery without a ticket; a fair crack is all that they ask for.