GAA Football

Terence McNaughton: GAA football championship needs tiered like hurling

Antrim hurling legend Terence McNaughton

ANTRIM’S joint-manager Terence McNaughton says football needs to follow in the footsteps of hurling and create a tiered Championship.

The former Allstar also feels the carrot of playing in this season’s All-Ireland Qualifiers is a bigger prize than actually winning the Christy Ring Cup.

The Saffrons are preparing for Saturday evening’s Ring Cup final against Carlow at Croke Park, with the winners gaining entry into the All-Ireland series.

Antrim lost last year’s Christy Ring final to Meath after the game had to be replayed due to a scoring tally error by the referee in the first encounter.

The GAA created a successful three-tiered Championship for hurling in 2005 – and McNaughton says it’s time football did the same.

“I think Croke Park could market the Christy Ring better, but I don’t think every team should play in the Liam MacCarthy. Not a chance,” said McNaughton.

“There are only two provinces that work – Ulster football and Munster hurling. The rest don’t work. That’s the bottom line.”

He added: “Even from a club point of view, the Christy Ring is ideal the way it’s situated.

“After this campaign is over, the clubs have two months to prepare themselves, whereas if it dragged on any longer it would interfere with the clubs.

“I think the footballers could learn from the hurling structures. They need tiered competitions.

“There is no team in the Christy Ring that is capable of competing in the latter stages of the Liam MacCarthy. And that’s fact.

“From a hurler looking in at Saturday night’s [Leinster SFC] match between Dublin and Carlow, the result was never in doubt. I don’t think you should just play in the big competition for the sake of it.”

The Hurling Development Committee [HDC] is also looking at ways of improving the current Championship structures with the Christy Ring expected to carry even more incentives.

The hurling body is proposing to give both finalists the chance to play some of the bigger counties in a re-jigged Championship format.

The HDC have drawn up a round-robin format for five Leinster teams and five Munster teams with another group of five comprising the Christy Ring finalists and some of Leinster’s lesser lights.

The top two in Leinster and Munster would progress to deciders while the third-placed teams in both provinces would face the Christy Ring finalists in an All-Ireland Qualifier series.

The winners of this Saturday’s Christy Ring Cup final entering the Qualifiers is a step in the right direction, according to McNaughton.

“I think the biggest incentive is playing at the highest level as you can as a hurler,” he added.

“Any player with ambition should always want to play at the highest level they can.

“You always want to step into the water to see how deep it is. Personally, I think playing in the Qualifiers is the greater incentive and probably bigger than actually winning the Christy Ring.”

Antrim’s Christy Ring final hopes have been boosted by the return of Arron Graffin.

The highly-rated Cushendall defender has been playing well for his club over the last month after returning from a year-long trip abroad.

Matthew Donnelly, who picked up a knee injury on a skiing trip two months ago, is back in contention again, while Paul ‘Shorty’ Shiels has recovered from a hamstring injury and is set to feature in the match-day squad against Carlow this weekend.

McNaughton, Dominic McKinley, Gary O’Kane and Neal Peden took the reins midway through last season’s roller-coaster campaign.

They guided the team to the Ring final, but were outplayed on both days against Meath.

“I think there was always a sense last year that it wasn’t our team, if that makes sense,” explained McNaughton.

“We felt our stamp wasn’t on it. I don’t want to sound arrogant but it was like you were working with somebody else’s tools.

“We came in halfway through the campaign which was always going to be difficult.”

“Losing the Christy Ring final obviously hurt because I’m an Antrim man. But we didn’t feel we had ownership of the team.”

The quartet were persuaded to stay on for 2017 and have already clinched promotion back to Division 1B next season after ousting Carlow in an epic play-off in Newry.

“I have enjoyed the year. I’ve enjoyed the commitment of the players and their dedication,” he said. 

“Whenever you go out to solve a problem and you solve it, you get satisfaction from it.

“On any given day you don’t know if a player is going to hurl well or not, or if a team is going to perform the way you expect them to.

“Michael Ryan didn’t expect Tipperary to perform the way they did against Cork – it doesn’t mean he’s a bad manager or Tipp is a bad team. That’s sport.

“I always used the phrase: ‘Antrim are going nowhere when they’re looking in the car park to see who’s turning up for training’.

“We don’t do that any more. We don’t look in the car park any more. We know who’s going to be there.

“We have some smashing players. To work with some of these players night after night, I do believe we have players that would grace any team in Ireland. I genuinely believe that.

“I’ve loved the way when we weren’t playing well we dug out results. We’ve had some smashing hurlers that have stepped up this year, like John ‘Rocky’ Dillon who won Player of the Month.

“There are people coming out of other places – young guys like Joe Maskey and Ruairi Diamond from Glengormley [St Enda’s], not a traditional hurling base.”

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