The B Championship neither wanted or needed in the GAA

Emlyn Mulligan is among the elite forwards in Gaelic football, but is often overlooked due to his county of origin. Credit: Sportsfile

Throughout the 2015 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship there were many one-sided games, all followed up with the discussion of restructuring the championship.

Now, just as the 2016 season gets underway, the idea of a ‘B’ championship is to be discussed at the GAA’s annual congress this month.

This proposed idea would not help anything. First of all the players don’t want it. The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) announced last Friday that players won’t take part in any All-Ireland B championship, and who could blame them?

Think back to Sean Quiqley’s words after Fermanagh lost to Dublin last year in a game that was closer than a lot of people expected. “Fermanagh are seen as a weaker county. I would not want to play in a second tier competition and miss out on massive days like today.”

A second tier would label some players as second class. With the ever increasing workload and lifestyle demands of the current day county footballer, players need to be even further motivated to play the game.

Think of a player like Leitrim’s Emlyn Mulligan, who has the quality to make the full forward line of almost any team in the country. Viewers want to see players like him showing what they can do on the big stage, not constantly battling it out for mediocrity.

A ‘B’ championship would not help to develop the weaker teams. They would be segregated among themselves. How can you aspire to be amongst the best when you aren’t even allowed to play against the best? How can a county see where they are, or where they are going? Weaker teams should be encouraged to strive to become more competitive, not be discouraged by being labelled as second class citizens.

However, a restructure of the layout of the championship is still necessary. Something that needs to be realised is that not every county can win the All Ireland. Just like not every team can win the Champions League or the Premier League.
But all the teams in those competitions can be competitive. They play each other regularly. This is what the GAA needs – for teams to keep progressing and becoming more and more competitive against the big guns.
If the Champions League format was to be used, the championship would consist of eight groups of four. Teams could be seeded from 1-4, allowing the weaker counties to play stronger teams both home and away.
All teams would be guaranteed at least 6 championship games and a good balance between away games and home games. This is something the players deserve.

On the opening weekend of last year’s Leinster Championship, Offaly hosted Longford and Carlow played Laois. The next day the Connacht championship continued as Leitrim took on Galway. These games took place on May 16th and 17th respectively.

While obviously every team takes to the field to win, this was a game all the teams dreaded losing. The first round of the qualifiers was to be held on June 20th, that meant a six week wait until the loser’s next game.
This is a very long time in football. In six weeks of championship, the losing teams will have played one game, had six weeks of training while watching other teams play and will have built up no momentum. All of this adds to the demoralisation of them being knocked out of their provincial championships.

This is simply unfair on the players. To make it even worse, if they lose the qualifier game they waited six weeks to play, their season is over. Players who have devoted their lives from October until June will have trained for nine months and been rewarded with two championship games. It simply does not make sense.

Conor Hawkins

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