GAA Football

Tailteann Cup 'an easy out' for GAA insists Fermanagh captain Eoin Donnelly

Fermanagh captain Eoin Donnelly says the prospect of playing in the Tailteann Cup offers little incentive for players
Neil Loughran

FERMANAGH captain Eoin Donnelly believes the Tailteann Cup is “an easy out” for the GAA to “get rid of 16 teams” from the All-Ireland Championship, as the Ernemen bid to escape ending up in the second tier competition next year.

Ryan McMenamin’s side are currently preparing for Saturday’s Ulster Championship showdown with Monaghan but, having failed to earn promotion from Division Three earlier this month, are running out of opportunities to ensure they remain in the race for Sam Maguire.

Heading into 2022, they must either earn promotion to Division Two or reach the Ulster final – something the Erne County has only managed on six occasions – to steer clear of the Tailteann Cup in its inaugural year.

And Donnelly admits that prospect offers little incentive for players, especially given the fine margins between counties in the National League’s middle tiers.

“Division Two and Division Three have always been nearly a revolving door, any team can go up or any team can go down really,” said the Coa midfielder.

“In the space of 18 months you go from finishing in the top three in Division Two to being down in Division Three. I don’t think the Tailteann Cup is a great incentive for any players, especially not myself, and it makes it very difficult then.

“It’s an easy out for the powers that be to get rid of 16 teams without putting too much thought into how you’re going to bring them on and improve them.

“Division Three is so competitive, you can see the likes of Cavan [who were relegated to Division Four] and Tipperary - they’re going to be potentially missing out next year as well.”

Fermanagh’s League campaign was a mixed bag, with victory over Cavan and a draw against Longford coming either side of a heavy defeat to Derry.

Having lost out to Offaly in their promotion play-off, thoughts immediately turned to Saturday’s clash with the Farneymen. With the GAA opting for another knockout Championship this summer, it will be the end of the road for whoever comes out the wrong side of that Clones encounter.

And Donnelly admits plenty of counties will be left feeling short-changed by the lack of a back door to fall back upon for the second season in succession.

“This year, potentially there was opportunity to give more games.

“Championship is sort of the be all and end all, and when you only have one crack at it, that makes it difficult.

“Even for coaches trying to bring players on, the season finishes very quickly. There’s a long gap before you’re getting together as a group again so a lot of the work you’ve done maybe is forgotten about by the time you get together.

“The temptation then is for teams to start earlier and earlier in the winter time, which is detrimental as well. So yeah, it’s frustrating – there’s been a lot of talk about different formats but the more competitive games you get can only help teams, especially those in Division Three and Division Four.

“They need more and more games, not less.”

The in-form Oak Leafs aside, Monaghan represents a major step up for Fermanagh this weekend – and Donnelly knows they go in as huge underdogs to upset their neighbours at St Tiernach’s Park.

“It’s probably a similar situation to what we find ourselves in most seasons… underdogs, completely written off, playing against a top team who have come through some really tough battles in the League and come out with their Division One status secured.

“You could see against Donegal the score they racked up [4-11] so we can’t afford to be conceding big scores. We need to keep the game as close as possible and keep our performance level as high as possible for as long as possible.”

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GAA Football