Fermanagh boss Donnelly backs a well-structured second tier
NEW Fermanagh football boss Kieran Donnelly is in favour of some form of second tier Championship - but only if the GAA structure and market it properly.
The Brookeborough man has fond memories of winning an All-Ireland 'B' title in 1996 and feels that that success elevated the Ernemen in both League and Championship in the following seasons.
The GAA will hold a Special Congress next month to decide on the future format of the football Championship. Proposals for change would send most Division Three and Four sides into a Tailteann Cup rather than an All-Ireland Championship proper, after an initial stage of a new League Championship or a tweaked provincial championships.
Donnelly believes benefits can come from involvement in such a competition, recalling the boost the Ernemen received from that 'B' success a quarter of a century ago:
"Looking back, at that time the All-Ireland 'B' was actually a big thing, but it lost its appeal after '98, '99 because it wasn't marketed right by Croke Park.
"When we won, I was a young player of 19, it gave us massive confidence. We got promotion from Division Four, then Three, went up to Division Two, won the McKenna Cup too [in 1997].
"That was two medals. When I look back on my career there were a lot of losses and disappointments, but it's all about those winning moments, no matter what competition it is. It gives you that sense of achievement, a realistic goal to achieve."
Yet the authorities need to produce a format which will incentivise and engage players rather than exclude them, insists Donnelly:
"I'm still all for the GAA structuring it properly, so that whatever competition you win you then step on to the next level. The GAA have to nail this.
"There's a window, there's an appetite for this, but they have to get the structures right. With our squad, winning things is a good habit, no matter what level, it inspires confidence. A major overhaul is needed and there are enough intelligent men at the top to get it right.
"We went from that [winning All-Ireland 'B' and McKenna Cup] to competing with Armagh in an Ulster semi-final, lost by a point or two, and they were one of the best teams in Ireland at that time. That was just the confidence we had garnished from those successful few years of winning games."
Fermanagh will be in Division Three again next year and Donnelly will be targeting promotion: "The National League is a massive thing for Fermanagh. It's an obvious sign of progress to try to move up through the divisions."
Several senior players departed last season, but the new boss is optimistic that some will return for the 2022 campaign:
"You'd like to think you don't have to persuade them, it's maybe more making contact with them. The opportunity to be a county player now, I'd give my right arm to be one with the environment that there is. There's a profile for them, they're getting the best dietary advice, S & C advice. It's a no-brainer at any age.
"We have to maximise all our players within the county, that's a big thing obviously as a smaller county. All those players that are out there, who have the ability and have competed at the highest level in the past, at colleges and Sigerson and for Fermanagh, we do need back on board.
"I'd like to think that they'll be keen if we correct the right environment and culture for them, that they'll want to jump on board with us."