GAA Football

Two-tiered Championship is baffling, says Down footballing legend Benny Coulter

Down's Benny Coulter in action during an Ulster Championship match against Tyrone in Healy Park. Credit Philip Walsh
Diarmuid Pepper

The first All-Ireland Football Championship Final of this decade seen Down and Cork go head-to-head in an epic battle which the Rebel County won by a solitary point.

Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh was commentating on his last ever All-Ireland Final and was treated to an enthralling match between two teams that have lifted Sam Maguire 12 times between them.

Should either county fail to gain promotion to Division Two of the Football League league next Spring, neither will be competing in the All-Ireland Football Championship in the summer - unless they've managed to reach their respective provincial finals.

Motion One was passed by a large majority at Saturday’s Special Congress in Cork.

A motion needs 60% support to pass and Motion One received 75.5% support.

The Motion in question will bring in a two-tiered All-Ireland Football Championship from 2020 onwards.

This means that counties scheduled to compete in Division 3 and 4 of the Allianz Football League in 2021 after next year's League programme is completed will not contest for the All-Ireland SFC.

Instead, they will instead compete in an as of yet unnamed second tier competition - albeit with that provincial finals spot reprieve. 

Former Dowm star Benny Coulter had some great days on the All-Ireland stage and scored a point in that 2010 decider against the Rebels. 

While he acknowledges that change is needed, he says “it should be done in a different way”.

Coulter was also critical of lack of input by players into the Special Congress.

The players weren’t listened to. The GPA did a survey and a lot of the players didn’t want this proposal,” said the Down footballing legend.

“They went against the players and that didn’t surprise me. Sometimes, the decisions that are made by the GAA hierarchy are baffling.”

Coulter also spoke of his concern that this will further damage the club game and could lead to an exodus of players.

“I think this will come into play for clubs as well. Teams in the second tier, who wouldn’t normally be left in the Championship, will get a longer stint playing which will have a knock-on effect on club teams.

“Croke Park is always saying that they want to see what they can do for the clubs, but I feel that this will create even more difficulties for club fixtures.

“I think there are a lot of players who will be thinking of heading to America and playing a bit of football out there and you wouldn’t blame them.

“If they are just knocked out of the provincial Championship, they might think: ‘Why not head out to America and play a bit of ball out there and try get a few pound?’”

Coulter says the decision will also be detrimental to supporters and young fans of the game.

“Last year, Down were drawn against Mayo and although we were beat, it was a great occasion in Newry. With the format this year, that won’t happen.

“For the team, and for supporters and young fans, it is disappointing that those games may not happen this year.

“It was great to get so many high-profile games last year and it was great for young fans to get to see the likes of Aiden O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor and Keith Higgins and boys like that.

“We all know these players and we all want to see these players and we had them in Newry last year. However, that may not happen for a while yet.”

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