Carlow boss Turlough O’Brien: Tier 2 proposals are ‘tokenism’
Proposed secondary football championship ‘a sop’ that will ‘fail to address the problem’
A dejected Carlow manager Turlough O’Brien after the Leinster GAA Senior Football Championship semi-final between Laois and Carlow. Photograph: Ronan Byrne/Inpho
For the eight teams already left idle of football for the rest of the year the prospect of a Tier 2 championship might appear irresistible right now – especially if it presented the possibility of a final showdown in Croke Park.
Only Carlow football manager Turlough O’Brien isn’t so sure: in fact he’s certain, describing the GAA’s proposal for such a championship as a “sop” and suggests it will do nothing to address any imbalance in inter-county football.
Carlow are one of the eight teams that lost their round-one qualifier last weekend (along with Waterford, Fermanagh, Tipperary, Louth, Wexford, Wicklow and London). Even accounting for a disappointing season, O’Brien insists he would have no appetite for a secondary competition at this stage.
“I just think it is tokenism, a sop, and they’re not addressing the problem,” says O’Brien. His Carlow team lost their first-round qualifier to Longford last Sunday having exited the Leinster championship after their opening defeat to Meath.
“Croke Park appear gung ho on this, but I don’t think they’re looking at the overall picture. The Super 8s were supposed to bring football to a new level. It didn’t work out that way and I don’t think it will this year. We’re adding in fixtures, filling the season more for the inter-county player, but that will impact on the club scene. We’re really going towards elitism here, with even more focus on the top counties, drive those teams to a higher level.
“As far as I can see this doesn’t make it any fairer. Funding is a major issue, and the competitions are favouring the big teams, with big panels. I’ve nothing against Dublin, I think they’ve done brilliantly, but to me, the championship is about the dream, those big days, the magic, and that will be lost for a lot of counties and why players won’t buy into it long term.”
O’Brien accepts Carlow’s early exit fell short of expectations (he was also serving a 20-week sideline suspension for an incident with the match referee in the defeat to Down in the penultimate round of the league, that marked Carlow’s relegation to division four).
“Of course the suspensions affected us, and not making excuses, but it had a big impact on our momentum. If you could do some things over again you would do them different. But we didn’t get a break all year, injury wise . . . But I don’t think we were that far off Meath or Longford. The GAA are always thinking another competition will solve the problems. And lot of pundits are saying we need this, especially teams in division three and four. But the reality is the Tier 2 competition will still be dominated by the top teams in division three anyway, or whatever way it falls.
“And a lot is being made of the chance to play in Croke Park. It’s great to be playing in front of 80,000 people, not so great in front 3,000, at 11.30 in the morning, the day of an All-Ireland final, and that’s what they’re talking about.”
What is proposed?
GAA president John Horan has indicated there are two options up for consideration, one of which, if approved by special congress later this year, will likely be trialled in 2020. The first proposal would mean all counties play in their provincial championships; if a division three or division four side fails to make it to the provincial final, they go straight into the Tier 2 competition.
The other proposal would mean all teams take part in their provincial championship, only if a division three or four side failed to make it to the provincial final, they would first go into the qualifiers. If they then lose in round one or two of the qualifiers, they would then go into the secondary competition.
A more radical approach, O’Brien suggests, is needed. “We are a 32-county based organisation, built on club structures, not only the cream at the top. The best competition is the league, it’s just played at the wrong time of the year.
“So why not try something more radical, like playing the league and the championship concurrently? Keep the championship knock out, because the league is where you make progress; championship is about magic. If they were played concurrently, that would make it very interesting. And that makes it a shorter condensed season. We can’t keep adding fixtures and say we’re going to treat clubs fairly.
“The GAA needs to ask themselves what are we? Are we going to be semi-pro, with eight top teams? Look at what happened with rugby, and the AIL league, when that game went professional, and to me that’s the same way it’s going with football and hurling. Down the line there will be a vacuum, because clubs already have problems with rural depopulation.
“Everyone else seems to have a voice on this, except managers, and that’s an issue too.”