GAA Football

GAA must secure proper promotion of Tier Two football Championship

How much coverage would Derry and Laois get in a 'Tier Two' Championship?
Picture Margaret McLaughlin.

IT is what it is. We are where we are. Just get on with it and make the best of it.

Whatever platitudes you wish to spout, the decision has been taken to bring back a ‘B’ Championship for inter-county football next summer.

Most of the teams which finish in the bottom 16 of the National Football League – i.e. those which will be in Divisions Three and Four for 2021 – will not be allowed to compete in next year’s All-Ireland qualifiers, unless they reach their provincial final.

At best, that means more than a dozen counties will be excluded; at worst it could be all 16.

Sure, Sligo might upset Galway (assuming they win in New York) to reach the Connacht decider, while it’s possible that a lower-ranked Leinster side could emerge from the half of their draw that doesn’t include Dublin.

Clare or Tipperary will probably make it to the Munster Final, but it’s conceivable that both of those could secure Division Two status for 2021 anyway.

Yet the only way for any of the Division Four teams to guarantee a place in the All-Ireland series is for them to reach their provincial final.

I’ve argued for some form of seeding in the qualifiers, but it’s not right to exclude any counties – it’s not an All-Ireland competition then, is it?

Perhaps the case can be made that the provincial competitions are some sort of winnowing out process, but if so, then they are an unfair, imbalanced one.

Ulster is the toughest province in terms of depth of quality, and certainly it and Leinster involve more matches needing to be played than Connacht and Munster.

Still, we are we are, so let’s make the best of it - not the second best, or worse.

That is the fear, with concerns not allayed by comments from the man who has driven this change, GAA President John Horan.

After the ‘Tier Two’ was voted through on Saturday, Horan told the GAA website: "We have been talking to RTE in terms of the coverage for it, we hope to have the semi-finals and finals at Croke Park to give it that profile.”

Hope?

Hope?!

If only the man expressing that hope had any influence over which matches are played at Croke Park.

If only the GAA had any say over the television contracts it signs…

As my colleague Cahair O’Kane pointed out in his column yesterday, Central Council gets what Central Council wants.

The rights to the ‘Super Eights’, All-Ireland semi-finals, and Finals MUST only be agreed with any TV station if it also signs up to provide proper coverage of other competitions.

Hurling’s Joe McDonagh Cup (its second tier) should be factored into that equation, rather than continuing to be ignored.

Sure, those elements may not be part of current TV deals, but the GAA needs to flex its muscles, let the TV companies know that only those who agree to broadcast live coverage of Tier Two matches, in both codes, as well as extensive highlights programmes, will be looked on favourably in the future when it comes to renegotiating contracts.

Please don’t talk about streaming or website broadcasts – for the older generation, television is still the method by which they watch matches.

Counties should pass resolutions, motions, whatever at their annual conventions later this year to make clear that proper coverage of these tier two competitions is required, not merely expected, far less something to ‘hope’ for.

Even if big games in Tier Two (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) are played at headquarters next year, they’ll need to be promoted properly by the GAA.

That hasn’t been the case for the Joe McDonagh Cup, nor when it was the Christy Ring Cup.

One of the few things I won’t blame bloody Brexit for is that this paper is really ‘the Ulster News’ when it comes to GAA coverage.

The nine counties in the northern province are the main subjects of our focus, although the closing stages of the All-Ireland Senior Football and Hurling Championships will always attract attention, even if there’s no Ulster involvement in them.

Whichever Ulster counties end up in the ‘Tier Two Championship’ next year – and I’ll not risk appearing disrespectful by naming any likely names – we’ll still cover them.

Realistically, though, the games will not get as much space, at least not in the paper, as even All-Ireland qualifiers would, never mind matches in the Ulster Championship or the ‘Super Eights’ onwards.

Yet, as I’ve often pointed out over the years, my job is to sell newspapers (and/ or latterly to attract ‘clicks’ to our website).

Promotion of Gaelic games is the remit and the responsibility of the GAA.

We have to make judgment calls about coverage, operating within our staffing resources.

We also have to factor in increasing coverage of female sport.

Of course, there are other reasons to play for your county than to get your name or – better still – your picture in The Irish News. Apparently.

Yet how much pride will players have in participating in what is, by its very name, a secondary competition?

Sure, there are tiers in hurling, but there have always been greater gulfs in skill levels between various counties, several strata

There’s much more fluidity in football, much more chance of any of the teams outside the top 10 or 12 beating each other.

At least there was.

The perception after Saturday’s decision is that certain counties matter less than others.

The GAA has to broadcast the message, loud and clear, that all the counties in Ireland remain key elements of the Association.

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