GAA Football

Down legend Peter McGrath believes a tiered football Championship can work

Allianz League Division 2 at Drogheda Between Louth and Down.Sunday 28th January 2018.Louth Pete McGrath .Pic Philip Walsh.

SENIOR success is the target on the club scene for Peter McGrath – but he’s positive about the idea of a tiered football championship at inter-county level.

The Down managerial legend has been confirmed as new boss of his home club Rostrevor, the first time he has taken charge of the St Bronagh’s seniors, as they head into their centenary year.

The club has now gone 20 years since winning its second Down crown but McGrath, typically, is optimistic about the Reds’ future: “I’m looking forward to it. I think there is genuine potential within the club that, for a variety of reasons, hasn’t been fully realised. Sometimes players can drift and lose fitness or whatever.

“It’s not going to be an overnight waving of the magic wand, there’ll be a lot of hard work, but I certainly hope to do whatever I can to re-ignite real passion and real enthusiasm for the team and for the club – that’s my challenge.”

Whether there will be ‘real passion and real enthusiasm’ for a two-tier inter-county football championship, as mooted last week by the Gaelic Players’ Association, remains to be seen.

However, McGrath, who led Down to two All-Ireland titles in 1991 and 1994, and more recently managed Fermanagh and Louth, gave the concept a cautious welcome:

“Obviously I’d need to see the blueprint whenever it comes out. They have to be smart about this.

“We all know there’d be a stigma attached to teams who are able to play only in a second or third tier.

“If the GAA model it in such a way that, initially, every team is in the same competition: i.e., their provincial championship, which leads on to qualifiers and, ultimately, the Sam Maguire, then that would be OK.

“Then, at a certain point, if a county doesn’t win its initial game or its second game, they play in a second tier competition – to me that would appear more democratic.”

Having departed Fermanagh after expressions of dressing room unrest, McGrath knows that keeping the players happy is key to any success:

“There would still be players who, whenever their county drops out of the main competition, would say ‘I’m not committing to anything else, I’ve more to do with my time’.

“I don’t know what the reaction would be, but we all know that mind-set is there. I was surprised to read that figure of 60 per cent [in favour of a change] because prior to that any players asked had said ‘no’.

“Even those from smaller counties were adamant that they don’t want to play in anything that’s regarded as ‘second tier’ or however it’s described.

“That also means 40 per cent weren’t keen on change, and you have to look at that too.”

The call of one of his former clubs, Cooley Kickham’s in Louth, led to McGrath’s link-up with Rostrevor, whom he says were the only option he would consider, having previously taken charge of An Riocht and Bryansford in Down.

“Whenever I became a free agent again, and people were asking me what I was going to do, would I be interested in club football?, I told them: ‘The only club at this point in time that I would have a passion to manage would be my own club.’

"At that stage the management team at Rostrevor was still in place, but Mark Copeland did stand down last week, he’s going to become manager of Cooley Kickham’s. The [Rostrevor] chairman and another committee member then came to see me…and it was ratified.

“I think people are generally pleased and happy enough that I’m going to be putting the shoulder to the wheel for Rostrevor for the next couple of years.”

That’s surely an understatement. Rostrevor’s most famous sporting son, now 65, who went on to to take charge of his county, his province, and his country, started off managing their U16s in 1977, a year after winning the club’s first SFC as a player.

He went on to manage the St Bronagh’s minor team as well in the late 70s into the early 80s, but then in 1982 took over Down minors – and the rest, as they say, is history.

McGrath won an All-Ireland Minor in 1987, took over the seniors from 1989 until 2002, winning their last two Sams, and also led Down U21s to two Ulster titles.

On the club front he did help train Rostrevor minors from the quarter-final onwards in 1992 when they won their first ever Down minor championship, and took Bryansford to the Ulster U21 title in 2013.

* Paul McIver has amicably parted ways with Kilcoo, ending his time as senior football manager after leading the Magpies to three Down SFCs and four county finals in four seasons. Burren took the title earlier this year after the Eoghan Rua men’s run of six consecutive county crowns. Ballinderry man McIver also led Kilcoo to the Ulster Final in 2016, when they were beaten by Slaughtneil, who also ousted them last year.

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