GAA Football

Antrim chief Ciaran McCavana warns of dire consequences over Championship tiers

The Antrim footballers celebrate winning the Tommy Murphy Cup at Croke Park in 2008

ANTRIM chairman Ciaran McCavana believes the tier two Championship proposal to be debated at Special Congress this weekend is a “dressed up Tommy Murphy Cup” and feels it would be a backward step for the Association.

McCavana spoke on behalf of the Antrim county board at a recent meeting of county chairpersons and warned of the potentially dire consequences in the lower ranked counties.

Since becoming GAA President John Horan has promoted the idea of a tiered Championship but as the October 19 summit edges closer more concerns are being expressed surrounding Central Council’s proposal.

“I think this is a dressed-up Tommy Murphy Cup – the difference is, I don’t think we’ll come back from this,” McCavana warned.

“For example, the Railway Cup is gone, the Ulster Senior Hurling Championship was supposed to be shelved for a few years and we’re still waiting on it being replaced. When these things go it’s very hard to get them back because of a tight calendar.”

The much-maligned Tommy Murphy Cup [a tiered Championship] was introduced by the GAA in 2004 but was ditched five seasons later, with Antrim the last winners of the competition.

Many players from the lower ranked counties are divided on the prospect of a tier two, but McCavana says county boards need to take a longer term view of what’s best for the Association.

“Naturally, most players are interested in their own shelf life. The press is interested in today’s newspaper – not tomorrow’s. We have to look at the long view of what the best thing is for Antrim.

“My own personal opinion is that a second tier wouldn’t be good for Antrim or the GAA. You’re moving towards elitism. The whole beauty of the GAA is every county is taking part in the same competition. You have a chance of David slaying Goliath and so-called smaller counties going on a run in the All-Ireland series.

“Would supporters come out to watch Antrim versus Leitrim for example?”

While there could be some tweaks to the current proposal tabled by Central Council, Division Three and Four teams that don’t reach a provincial decider in the same competition year will enter a second tier football Championship should it be passed.

There has been some discussion that the two promoted teams from Division Three could replace the two relegated teams in Division Two team in the same competition year in tier one.

“Cork are Division Three [after being relegated out of Division Two in 2019] and could easily have reached an All-Ireland semi-final this year but they’re thinking of changing that,” McCavana explained.

“A top team in Division Three could easily hold their own in Division Two because there is very little difference between them.

“People talk about we have junior, intermediate and senior at club level so why can’t we have it at inter-county level? You look at Nicky Rackard Cup and the Christy Ring and people laud their success but how many turn out for a Christy Ring match or a Rackard match?

“You’ll hear stories of county boards not being able to give away 1,000 tickets for the finals of those competitions.”

McCavana, who will complete his first year as Antrim chairman in December, got the impression that the top tier counties will take their lead from the lower-ranked counties on the two-tier proposal “because it is not their fight”.

“You’re not talking about the bottom 16,” he added, “you’re talking about the bottom 24 that could be in this competition.”

From fundraising and a media exposure perspective, the Antrim chief doesn’t see any discernible positives that would come from splitting the football Championship.

“I believe it would affect the coverage of our games and when you’re pitching to future sponsors especially,” the Naomh Éanna clubman said.

“You look at the Joe McDonagh coverage and it has been disgraceful to say the least. The broadcasters will decide which matches they’re putting on. And, with respect, it won’t be Antrim versus Wicklow.”

“They’ve also talked about splitting the country in two for the early rounds of the tiered competition. We already have partition in the country and that didn’t work out too well!

“So I wouldn’t be in favour of that kind of split. The thinking behind that is people don’t want to travel big distances for games. But you actually get sick of playing the same teams. Last season, playing Kildare was a novelty for the Antrim footballers.”

The Gaelic Players Association [GPA] has urged the GAA to hold fire on pressing ahead with a tiered Championship, at least until the Fixtures Calendar Review body completes its findings, in November, with the Players’ Union chief Paul Flynn adding the tier two proposal would be “hard to support”.

McCavana harbours the view that Antrim can climb to the summit either in football or in hurling in his life-time, but creating tiers would kill that hope in vast swathes of the country.

“I still believe that Antrim can one day win the Liam MacCarthy or the Sam Maguire but, with respect, I wouldn’t feel the same emotion if Antrim won a ‘B’ Championship.

"There are some things I’d like to see happen: I’d like to see the reunification of my country, I’d like to see my kids grow old and I’d like to see Antrim win the Liam MacCarthy or the Sam Maguire. Would I be putting on my bucket list: Antrim winning a B competition? No, I wouldn’t. I want our players to aspire to be the best, and we need to be part of the A list, not the B list.”

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