GAA Football

Former GAA President Sean Kelly: Time is long overdue for tiered Championships

Sean Kelly, pictured at the Irish News Allstars, wants to see junior and intermediate tiers for the inter-county championship

FORMER GAA President Sean Kelly has backed calls for a tiered Championship at inter-county level but warned that any proposed format would need television coverage for it to be successful.

John Horan, the current GAA President, wants to ditch the current Championship structures for tiers, while the Gaelic Players Association [GPA] surveyed its members back in October with over 60 percent backing Horan’s call for change.

Kelly, who held office between 2003-06, introduced the Tommy Murphy Cup – but the ill-fated ‘B’ Championship lasted just five years [2004-08].

However, given the increasing gap in quality between the top teams and the rest, Kelly feels the time is right to review the current structures.

“I don’t understand why we haven’t introduced a tiered Championship long ago,” said Kelly, now a Fine Gael TD.

“Sixteen years ago I introduced the Tommy Murphy Cup. It was a secondary competition. I felt if it was given the proper profile, the proper presentation that it certainly could do something.

“It should be a Championship in itself and it should have been introduced long ago, otherwise counties will only be cannon fodder.

“You can bet your life 20 counties or more will never win the All-Ireland. If you applied the same logic of the inter-county championship to the club championship all the smaller counties would be swallowed up and forgotten about.

“There should be a tiered Championship, provided it’s properly promoted with television coverage and the rewards that go with it.”

A tiered hurling Championship also came into effect during Kelly’s presidency. The Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard were formed in 2005 (another tier, the Lory Meagher Cup, was introduced in 2009) and were deemed a success.

However, Kelly has lamented the fact that the Christy Ring and Rackard competitions have been shunted to the backwaters of the GAA calendar in recent years, while the inaugural Joe McDonagh Cup received little or no television coverage from the Association’s broadcasting partners.

“It was absolutely disgraceful [that no Joe McDonagh Cup games received TV coverage],” said Kelly. “When we introduced the Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard Cups, as same as the Tommy Murphy Cup, we played them on the same day as All-Ireland semi-finals.

“They got ‘live’ television coverage, great coverage in the media, they got coverage on The Sunday Game and they got their Allstars. And that should be the case all the time.

“But now they’re played on a Saturday afternoon but just because you’ve a fourth tier [the Lory Meagher] doesn’t mean you downgrade the two tiers above it. I’d like to see those teams have the chance to get back into Croke Park for a big day.”

After Kildare won last season’s Christy Ring Cup, the-then manager Joe Quaid aimed a broadside at the GAA.

“We played in an All-Ireland final and there wasn’t a parade, there wasn’t a band, there wasn’t the national anthem, no shaking hands with the other players. There was nothing.

“It was like going out playing a club match, throw the ball in and away you go.”

Kelly’s club Kilcummin will compete in tomorrow’s All-Ireland Intermediate football final with Antrim’s St Enda’s, Glengormley.

Kelly also introduced the provincial and All-Ireland championships for the club scene and says they continue to flourish because of excellent TV coverage and the fact the finals are played at Croke Park.

“When I was Uachtarán we introduced the junior and intermediate championships I wanted them in Croke Park. It wasn’t available at one stage and they were played in Portlaoise.

“They didn’t mean half as much as it did to play in Croke Park, so I got it passed at Central Council that the finals have to be played in Croke Park every year.”

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