Carew says life in Division Three uniquely competitive
‘In my three years we beat promoted teams every year but still ended up mid-table’
Niall Carew: “The most important competition should be your league campaign.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Last April on one of the GAA season’s great, set occasions, the final day of the AFL regulation fixtures, Division Three, as usual, was still in a state of flux.
Six of the eight counties involved had a stake in the outcome and by the end of the summer five counties had changed manager, the biggest turnover in the league.
One of those is Niall Carew, who had three years campaigning in Division Three with Sligo.
“It’s a unique division,” he says. “You could be one game away from promotion on the last day or one game away from relegation. That’s how tight it was. In my three years we beat promoted teams every year but still ended up mid-table. It’s a good level. There are teams coming out of Division Four, who can go straight up and teams coming out of Two, who can get relegated straight away.
“Division Three for some reason doesn’t lie. You can be in Division One almost by default sometimes – and I don’t mean that in a bad way – but Division Three is a good level for all of the teams that are in it and that includes those who think they shouldn’t be in it and find that they mightn’t be as good as they think they are!”
That latter phenomenon has been particularly pronounced lately. In the past four seasons, one county has managed to slip straight from Division Two to Four in successive years.
Last year, Laois’s final-day defeat dropped them to the basement for the first time since the league was restructured 10 years ago and they were tumbling in the wake of Westmeath, Louth and Longford, who had made the same journey in the previous three years.
The division stands as a bridge between two different worlds. Go down and you’re generally amongst counties with few realistic short-term ambitions whereas climbing takes them within touching distance of the best.
“It’s a leveller because if you’re not on your game on any particular day, you’ll get beaten no matter who you are,” says Carew. “No team wants to go to Division Four and everyone wants to go Division Two and that’s why I think it’s so competitive with an injury or a suspension potentially changing a team’s whole year.”
He believes the league structure is ideal for championship and would dispense with the need for tiered competitions, which are back in the news after outgoing GAA director general Páraic Duffy said that the current ‘one size fits all’ was “unsustainable”.
“The most important competition should be your league campaign,” says Carew. “You have your four divisions, which are generally competitive. For me that should be moved to the summer because it’s the most attractive format and instead of looking for big, wholesale changes of an ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ championship. Then maybe run off your championship like the FA Cup with everyone in it on a knock-out basis. And drop the ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ designations – they’re soul-destroying!”
AFL Division Three 2018: Armagh, Derry, Fermanagh, Longford, Offaly, Sligo, Westmeath, Wexford.