Joint Antrim boss Frank Fitzsimons re-ignites debate over tiered Championship
FRANK Fitzsimons says the painfully one-sided nature of this year’s All-Ireland quarter-finals should be a “wake-up call” to the rest of the country and feels that it might be time for a tiered Championship.
Antrim’s joint manager attended last weekend’s two quarter-finals between Armagh and Tyrone and Dublin and Monaghan and also tuned in for Mayo’s ruthless replay hammering of Roscommon on Monday.
“The All-Ireland quarter-finals should be a wake-up call for everybody in the country,” said Fitzsimons.
“I attended last weekend’s quarter-finals and to see Monaghan losing by 10 points and Armagh by 18 points and then Roscommon losing by 22? I couldn’t believe the gap.”
In the other quarter-final, Kerry cantered to an eight-point win over Galway, leaving the best four teams in the country – Tyrone, Kerry, Dublin and Mayo to compete for this year’s All-Ireland title.
The average winning margin at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage over the last three years has been 10 points.
Given how far ahead this year’s last four are, Fitzsimons says there is now irrefutable evidence to proceed with a tiered Championship format.
“I know people disagree with me about a tiered Championship - I wouldn’t call it a ‘B’ Championship but I actually think there should be junior, intermediate and senior now…
“We need to wake up and ask where we’re going.
“Roscommon won a Connacht title but last Monday felt like 10 steps back for them. Is it telling us that the big teams don’t care about a provincial title?”
He added: “I actually think there should be three tiers... I’ve been thinking this for the last year-and-a-half. You’re just going on what other counties are spending.”
In 2016, Mayo spent €1.6m on their county teams - topping the list - compared to Antrim shelling out €439,000.
Without major investment in some of the middle-tier counties, the Lamh Dhearg clubman doesn’t see how the gap can be bridged.
Fitzsimons read with some interest Damian Barton’s interview in yesterday’s Irish News and how the ousted Derry manager felt that cost-cutting hampered the team’s chances.
“The way it’s going now you’re never going to compete… I was reading Damian Barton’s interview about how they had one strength and conditioning coach for 35 players. He’s right.
“Where else would that happen? You would need two or three for that number.
“As an Antrim man, if we keep going the way we’re going, we’re going to get the same results.
“Everything has to be in place for the players to go to the next level. You will always have the battle-hardened player who will go and do their gym sessions but it’s tough for many of them to actually do those sessions…
“Some players in other counties are getting treated like professionals.
“I know players from, say, Tyrone will say they’re playing for the love of the game but there must be things in place for them, whereas it’s very, very hard for other counties.
“Now we have this Belfast plan coming with five extra coaches. You can get all the kids you want playing football but when they hit 17, 18 and 19… Gone are the days when all you had was Gaelic football."
Despite facing a nominations process - which closes Monday August 14 - Fitzsimons praised the Antrim county board and the work they have put in this year.
“No matter what anybody says about our board all those boys are in there working – they’re doing as much as the players are doing."
Fitzsimons' issue within his own native county is the division between club and county.
“I know it’s very hard to run clubs too. I know from my own club how difficult it is to keep things going.
“It’ll take every last person in every club. To be fair, without the clubs, we wouldn’t be putting out teams that we’re putting out now.
"The clubs are still doing sterling work. I just feel we’re not united enough. Maybe I’m wrong, I just think we need to put our shoulder to the wheel rather than be against each other at times.
“Rivalry at club level is fantastic. We need it the sport is no good… I suppose clubs can’t wait to get their players back.
His managerial side-kick Gearoid Adams has intimated that he won't go through a nominations process and will walk away from his role.
Fitzsimons said: “Everybody knows the procedure and we’ve shown an interest and we’ll see what happens. If nobody puts their name forward, that would be more worrying, wouldn’t it?”