Time for Championship tiers - with a warning: Terry Hyland and Emlyn Mulligan

Leitrim Terry Hyland gave qualified support for a tiered Championship

LEITRIM manager Terry Hyland and veteran forward Emlyn Mulligan are both in favour of the introduction of a tiered Championship.

However, Hyland's caveat was that new tiers would have to be “marketed properly” or it would “die a death” – just as the ill-fated Tommy Murphy Cup ended after five years (2004 to 2008) due to a lack of interest.

After gaining promotion in his first year with Leitrim, only to lose the Division Four decider to Derry last weekend, Hyland said: “I have no problem with it provided it is marketed properly. You've got to bring guys into the stage where the crowds are, where the people are going to be.

"If we started like a ‘B' Championship and started pushing them around county grounds around the country and don't let them on the stage it will die a death, the same as what happened before.

Hyland, who managed Cavan's U21s and seniors for the best part of 10 years, aimed a broadside at the GAA hierarchy for concentrating too heavily on the better counties in the country.

“As I often say, maybe sometimes the hierarchy in Croke Park forget there are 32 counties in Ireland because they usually only talk about the top 16. If we didn't have the other 16 we wouldn't have an All-Ireland.”

Leitrim's long-serving forward Emlyn Mulligan also believes the current championship structures are not working and would like to see more incentives for smaller counties come summer time.

“You can see in Division Four that we're playing against teams that we can compete against and you have a real belief of winning,” said Mulligan, who first played for Leitrim seniors in 2006.

“We're facing Roscommon in the [Connacht] Championship and they were in Division One this year – so you're jumping three divisions. It's not that we can't beat them, we believe we can beat them, it's just on a consistent basis competing against a team that is three divisions ahead of you is very difficult.

“I think there should be something done, whether it's tiered, but there needs to be something done so that you have a realistic chance of winning.

“At the minute, you're thrown against the wind and it's a case of giving it a rattle. That's not good enough. We're putting too much of an effort in just to give it a rattle.

“But this Division Four campaign will bring us on a lot and it'll be the best shape we've been in going into a Roscommon game.”

With a population of just 32,000 and rising emigration rates, Leitrim gaining promotion out of the lower ranks has been one of the stories of 2019.

They may have lost last weekend's Division Four decider to Derry – but the feel-good factor will help Hyland's players when they meet relegated Roscommon on May 12 in Dr Hyde Park.

Mulligan is confident that Leitrim can keep improving over the coming years.

“I think there is sustainability there for years to come,” said Mulligan.

“There is massive work being done at underage – every county will say that – but we have some very good coaches put in place at the minute, especially at U16, minor and U20 level. And those grades are getting a lot more professional since when I started out playing.

“A lot of those lads have won Connacht minor leagues and that's five or six years ago. The biggest thing for us is to keep that momentum going. We have a lot more players wanting to play underage for Leitrim and for them to see us playing in Croke Park, so we need to drive on.

“Whether it goes back to the way it used to be, I don't know. But I'd be positive because I think young people in Leitrim want to play for Leitrim, whereas seven or eight years ago it was very hard to get a panel together at all.

“It's great to have these good days because I've been involved in the dark days as well. It's not a nice place to be when you're struggling every year and wondering will we have a panel, will lads play. But there is definitely potential there at the moment.”

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