GAA Football

Championship format needs to change says Meath manager Andy McEntee

Meath manager Andy McEntee (centre) after his side's lost to Donegal on Saturday night in Ballybofey. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Andy Watters

MEATH manager Andy McEntee says the existing provincial Championship format is “broken” and should be replaced by a new system that guarantees more games and a level playing field for all counties.

McEntee’s Royals meet Armagh in a potentially pivotal Division Two clash at Pairc Tailteann on Sunday and while the Meath manager regards the National League as “fantastic” he says the Championship make-up – which included just two games for Meath last year – is preventing ambitious counties from closing the gap on Gaelic Football’s established powerhouses.

“Meath, and a lot of counties like Meath, are trying to close the gap on the stronger teams in the country and it’s the lack of games at a certain level makes that difficult and that’s frustrating,” said McEntee.

“I think the structure of the Championship is such that if you don’t get a run, the gap gets bigger instead of getting smaller.

“The League, I think, is fantastic. You get seven games, every one of them is a battle, every one of them is tight, give or take, but the way the Championship is structured, we got two games last year whereas Tyrone (beat Meath in a Qualifier) ended up getting 10 games so it’s very difficult. I think that’s the frustrating thing.

“I think a group stage at the start of the Championship (should be brought in) where everybody’s guaranteed three games. Then you have a chance to progress or not.

“If you don’t get to the Super 8s, the gap between the haves and the have-nots gets bigger and I think it’s ultimately designed for that to happen.”

Meath last won a Leinster Championship back in 2010 and since then Dublin have reigned supreme in the province. The five in-a-row chasing All-Ireland champions are a massive hurdle to get past in Leinster but McEntee says the competition isn’t as tough in Connacht or Munster.

“Dublin are what they are,” he said.

“They have the players, they do the work and they get the results that they deserve.

“That’s what it is and I don’t want to be picking on anybody but you look at what we have to do to get out of Leinster and I look at Roscommon last year, they had to play one game to get into a Connacht final and then they’re one game away from the Super 8s.

“You go through Ulster, look what you have to do to get into the Super 8s! Everybody should have to do the same as everyone else. In that regard the provincial system is probably broken really.”

McEntee wants to see the introduction of a group-based 32-county Championship based on League positions which can then be split into two tiers.

“I think you either go with eight groups of four, everybody gets three games, top two go into competition A, bottom two go into competition B and then you work out a knockout system from there,” he suggests.

“Or you have two competitions to start with and you have four groups of four, Division One and Division Two. That gives the League a little bit of value. If you want to get up into competition A you’ve got to be in Division Two or Division One and everybody gets three games there and then you take it to knockout from there.”

He argues convincingly that a new format would address the slow-burning nature of the Championship which can take weeks to get going because the system is clogged up with mismatches.

“There’s too many uneven games I think,” he said.

“The appealing thing about the League is there’s no… look at Division Two, there’s no gimmes in that. That’s a genuine competition.

“I suppose, if you’re looking at the current structure in the Championship, there’s a lot of games that are fairly predictable from the start.”

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