GAA Football

Tiers would do to football as it's done to Ulster hurling and "cripple" it: Chrissy McKaigue

Derry football captain Chrissy McKaigue says tiered football championships could have the same impact on the sport as their equivalent has had on hurling, which he believes have "crippled Ulster hurling". Picture Margaret McLaughlin.

DERRY’S Chrissy McKaigue has warned that a tiered championship is not the answer to football’s ills, saying their equivalent in hurling has “crippled Ulster”.

Hurling’s structures were reformed at the end of the 2004 season and since then, Antrim’s appearance in an All-Ireland quarter-final in 2010 has been the only one made by an Ulster team.

The provincial hurling championship has been disbanded since 2016, and the Saffrons escaped relegation out of the new second-tier Joe McDonagh Cup last year by virtue of a playoff win over Kildare.

Derry, who famously ran Offaly close in a hurling quarter-final in 2000, reached the semi-finals of last year’s Christy Ring Cup – a competition they’ve never won – while Down haven’t been able to climb the ranks despite successes when the Christy Ring was the second-tier.

McKaigue, who has hurled with Derry in recent seasons but isn’t doing so this year, says imposing a similar structure on football will not helped redress the sport’s “competitive imbalances”.

“I certainly am not an advocate of tiered championships. I think there’s a precedent already set in terms of how hurling championships are tiered.

“From an Ulster perspective, the tiered championships have crippled Ulster hurling.

“There’s no incentive to have an Ulster championship any more, no team from Ulster goes out to compete in the All-Ireland quarter-final or last 12 or whatever else.

“I think we have to be extremely careful when talking about tiered championships, and we have to be even more careful about comparing an inter-county championship with what works at club level.

“To me, they’re two very different dynamics. They’re almost two different organisations nowadays, the club campaign and the inter-county, they take on a completely different look.

“I think we need to be really, really careful. My ultimate template for the GAA would be can we look at a way that makes every single county team out there as competitive as possible, instead of trying to create a further imbalance.

“There’s no doubt about it, the competitive imbalance that exists at inter-county is a huge concern. But I just don’t see how a tiered championship reduces that imbalance.

“What you’re essentially doing is saying to a team that they’re not good enough to compete so go and compete with other teams at your own level.

“How do you ever improve to be a top county, or even aspire to be competitive at the top table any day? I just don’t see that logic working.”

The Derry captain, who will lead his team out in Croke Park on Saturday for the Division Four football final against Leitrim, pointed the example of Carlow hurlers, who this year stepped into Division 1B, drew with Galway, pushed Dublin hard and beat Offaly in a relegation playoff.

“I think you have to look at it as a medium-to-short term process of how can we get counties that are lacking resources, counties that need coaching resources, how do we go about helping them out, helping them as one GAA community to try and make our competitions the best they can possibly be?

“I think it’s a total cop-out that we accept creating tiered championships. It’s created a bigger divide in the hurling fraternity than anything else.

“Look at Carlow hurling this year, what they got out of the leagues competing against better teams. Are we saying that the best development for Carlow or Westmeath or Laois hurling is to play at a lesser level?

“Those boys want to be playing at the top table. There’s great pride and great prestige in going out and playing against the best teams.

“Every team in Ireland isn’t always going to have a chance of winning the Liam MacCarthy or the Sam Maguire, but for me there’s great prestige and honour in going out and playing at the top table. I’d hate to see that being taken away.”

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