Danny Hughes: Championship football matters for everybody

Chrissy McKaigue of Derry tries to stop Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly during Sunday's Ulster Senior Football Championship match at Healy Park. Tyrone emerged victors, but the intensity and competitiveness of the game belied the fact that the Red Hands competed in Division One this season and the Oak Leafers in Division Four Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

I APPRECIATE that hurling is the sport of kings and, at its best, there are very few field games globally which can rival it in the entertainment stakes.

However, I am a football man and the fact that no football games were live on TV at the weekend in an era when you can ‘stream’ games to a mobile or tablet device disappoints me greatly.

Yes, John Horan may have a point when stating last week that RTé and Sky TV only make decisions based on the ‘numbers’.

John should know, after all, as he is presiding over an Association which use similar criteria when it suits them.

The Sunday Game is a brilliant programme as a highlights show, admittedly. But, like any highlights programme, rarely does it do any game justice.

You could only imagine the highlights package for a second tier (or even third tier) Championship if it were introduced.

I am opposed to the idea of a secondary competition because the very people it affects the most are totally opposed to it.

You could call it after anyone you want, but most of the teams earmarked for entry would not support it.

Yes, you may get the odd manager or player backing it and that is not to say that the principle of players playing against their equals does not hold merit.

Nevertheless, that’s precisely what League football is there for.

You can build towards a better future by progressing in this competition and currently teams do just that.

In terms of my playing career, I played in every division except for the lowest tier – the equivalent of Division Four these days.

Each year the Championship renewed my hope and, as a collective, it focused the team’s minds on that one game to start proceedings.

No matter how well or poorly the League or results went beforehand, the Championship was different – it brought hope.

And without hope in sport, what is there?

Take Derry on Sunday, for example.

Between the 55th and 60th minute, Derry had taken a one-point lead, having kept in touch with Tyrone admirably up until then.

To still be in that contest with 10 minutes remaining was an achievement given where Derry languished in 2018 and 2019.

Darren McCurry’s goal, so soon after the Oak Leafers had gone into the lead, was a sucker punch, a goal that an inexperienced Division Four team is capable of conceding.

It turned out to be a decisive score and one that drew the wind from Derry’s sails.

Offaly experienced something similar against Meath.

Without a doubt, both Derry and Offaly will learn something from their respective games and, after all, that is how you build experience – laying the foundations for future days such as those experienced to date.

Players should learn more in these disappointments.

Had Derry been playing Offaly in a secondary competition last Sunday, what on earth would the attendance figures look like for such a contest? Would there even be a highlights reel? Or would they just give us the result.

Given that the GAA already has a problem in that the best players from the lower divisions and tiers of inter-county football are being ‘enticed’ to the USA for the summer, I cannot help but believe that a secondary competition would further accelerate the temporary relocation of players abroad.

Think of the club impact also in the scenario of a second tier.

Does a long-running secondary competition not affect club fixtures in a tiered system also?

In the unlikely event that a county team would take the secondary competition seriously, club football in that county would be impacted by player unavailability.

How does this situation reconcile with an improved fixtures calendar?

Should we not be taking secondary competitions such as the McKenna Cup out of the system to reduce an otherwise over-crowded space, rather than adding further layers?

We should look at reinvigorating the All-Ireland series and restructure accordingly.

For too long it has been balanced in favour of all provinces except Ulster.

Kerry, Cork, Galway and Mayo have all benefited since the GAA came into existence.

Any second tier will certainly not affect any of those counties, nor Dublin, who also happen to be some of the more wealthy counties capable of generating greater revenue.

I can only guess that any Championship re-structure will include retention of a provincial system, with the respective boards hardly likely to vote themselves out of a credible competition.

Based on how results go provincially, teams could be seeded and enter a new All-Ireland series.

In a perfect world, teams are guaranteed a certain number of games. But sport doesn’t operate in a perfect world. That’s not to say that on a straight ‘knock-out’ in a new All-Ireland series, teams beaten in the primary competition should not drop into a secondary competition that can be played alongside the ‘Race for Sam’.

Yet teams such as Antrim, Carlow, Offaly, Derry, Leitrim, Louth and Waterford deserve at least one game minimum in the primary competition at least.

I guarantee the levels of preparation are equally intense and committed in the latter county panels as they are in the likes of Galway or Mayo.

The difference is the postcode.

The luck of the draw. Geography.

In another scenario, some of those players, if born in Dublin, would have a pocket full of All-Ireland medals.

It brings us back to the same point; You remove hope, what have you got?

It has been 25 years since Down last won an Ulster title.

I couldn’t imagine not competing for Sam Maguire and instead being placed into a second tier competition and told to get on with it.

The reality is that both Armagh and Down occupy similar spaces at the minute. We can argue over the reasons and root causes in both counties. Whether or not both teams are separated by one division or two, it will count for very little on Sunday.

This is Championship football.

And because of that, it’s different.

Don’t ask me why. It just is.

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