GAA Football

Two tier Championship would hit clubs hard during summer months warns John Clarke

Former Down forward John Clarke believes the introduction of a two-tier Championship would have a major knock-on effect for counties across Ireland. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Sean O'Neill

FORMER Down forward John Clarke has said that there is “no doubt” that the introduction of a two tiered inter-county football championship would have a negative impact on summer club football.

GAA president John Horan has been a strong advocate for the introduction of such a system and, following a meeting of Central Council on Saturday, Director General Tom Ryan said he believes there is a broad support for a second-tier football championship, but feels more time will be needed in deciding on the make up of such a competition.

It was agreed that possible formats would be discussed further at the January meeting of Ard Chomhairle to allow a motion to proceed to Congress in February.

“If there is a two-tiered championship, the likes of the weaker counties who maybe exit the championship in May or June, and who would traditionally have had plenty of time to play their club games – they could maybe see their season extended into maybe July or August if they go well in the second tier championship,” said Clarke.

“And there’s no doubt it will have a knock on effect on club championships, and club fixtures in general. So again it’s down to fixture planning and although the GAA have tightened things up this year, they would just need to tighten things up altogether, or the club game could really, really suffer.”

Thirty-six-year-old Clarke, who is still enjoying his club football with St John’s, Drumnaquoile, also fears that there may be a lack of commitment among county players to take part in a ‘B’ championship.

“Some inter-county players might choose club over county, and that argument could come into it as well then,” he said.

“And the county boards will be under huge pressure. I know in Down, in fairness to the Down County Board – no matter how far Down progress – they seem to run their league schedule very, very well with a couple of starred games here and there.

“But I know in other counties, it’s very different and club players could go maybe weeks without football. So, it is about trying to find a happy medium. But I don’t think the GAA should be shooting themselves in the foot and creating more fixtures and more chaos in an already packed calendar.”

The Dr McKenna Cup has been moved to start at the end of December this year, and although Clarke concedes that the season is “more compact,” as a result, he worries about the effect this will have also.

“Where’s the player welfare there? It’s just after Christmas and they’re expected to go in four or five days later and play a competitive inter-county match,” he added.

“They need to tighten it up, but do it in a fairer way I think.”

With more games come the potential dangers of additional stress being placed on the shoulders of many already overloaded players. Clarke says that he would “hate to be a young lad now coming through”.

“You’re being pulled from pillar to post and every team wants their best players be it at county level, college level,” he said.

“And managers these days are very selfish. They don’t care – it’s a results driven game and they want their best players out.

“And I don’t think they have any real care about maybe young players, about where they’re playing and where they’re training. They just want them available for them so they can win the games.

“So it’s a worrying thing as well.

“But again there should be some rule the GAA should bring in, where they’re only allowed to play for one or two teams maximum until that team is out of their campaign or whatever it is, to try and manage it a wee bit better.”

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