Colm Collins urges GAA to consider restructuring championship
Clare manager believes provincial competition is past its sell-by date
“I never believed in getting beaten and trying to keep the score down,” says Clare manager Colm Collins. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Something resembling competitive football is expected up in Ballybofey on Sunday. Fermanagh, under their wily manager Pete McGrath, could conceivably gift the football championship its first, badly needed, upset. Or it could come in Thurles, as Cork journey over the borderline.
Clare did trouble Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s men two years ago in Ennis but, as Collins noted, their 44 per cent shooting return, in contrast to Kerry’s 67 per cent, exemplified the difference in quality.
This has been the story of the football championship so far.
At least New York gave Roscommon a game on May 1st (losing 1-15 to 0-17). An achievement Leitrim (1-21 to 0-11) failed to replicate.
Against Dublin last Saturday, Laois slammed into the canvas quicker than José Aldo (that finished 2-21 to 2-10), while, most concerning of all, the gulf in standards in Ulster has never seemed so vast: neither Armagh, eight points off Cavan, nor Derry, losing 3-14 to 0-12 at home to Tyrone, can be considered the worst collective performances. That honour belongs to Down following their capitulation against Monaghan (2-22 to 0-9) last Sunday.
“There have been some fair old drubbings handed out and that’s not good for the sport,” said Collins. “In any other sport there would be change. Like, if it was horse racing they would be handicapped accordingly. Attendances are down and you would wonder why. It is something that needs to be addressed.”
All told, Gaelic football can scarcely afford uncompetitive Munster semi-finals this weekend. “Conventional wisdom would say you got to stack your team so you don’t get beaten,” said Collins, before quickly adding: “But I never believed in getting beaten and trying to keep the score down. That can’t be what we are all about. Incorporate a sound defensive system, yes, but not to sacrifice going out to win the match.”
Derry set up without a sweeper and Tyrone cut through them for three goals with their rapid, now ingrained, counter-attacking system. Down free-takers failed to keep pace with Conor McManus before looking truly clueless once Monaghan pressed up on Stephen Kane’s kick-outs.
Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh were pilloried after the Cavan defeat for their lack of physicality. Laois gifted Dublin two goals within four minutes of throw-in.
“You got to play your game according to what you’ve got,” Collins continued. “Tyrone have got some fabulous counter-attacking players that can play that system. They have been very successful at it.
“Tiernan McCann is key to that system – he breaks through and creates scores.
“You don’t enforce a system on players, the players you have got dictate the way you play.”
That sounds like a short-term method of surviving but a bigger concern is how deep Gaelic football must sink in terms of spectacle before current championship structures are altered.
“No matter what product you’ve got, you should always be looking at ways of improving it and making it better.
“My views on it are simple enough: I have always advocated the provincial championship should go and we should have eight groups of four – Champions League style. Top two teams play the A championship for Sam, bottom two teams play for a meaningful second championship with all the bells and whistles; their own All Stars, everything.”
Jim McGuinness wrote something similar almost a year ago. For how long must intercounty managers beat this drum before the GAA sees sense?
“I don’t have any of clout,” said Collins. “But the B championship should be meaningful so counties have a genuine chance of winning something, because at the moment they don’t.”
Not that Collins sends Clare to Fitzgerald Stadium with anything but a positive attitude.
“The Q word hasn’t entered our vocabulary,” he said, referring to the qualifiers. “We are going down there to win a match. If you are playing football, Kerry is the team you want to be playing and the arena you want to be playing in on a hot summer’s day.”
“Clare are good at getting men behind the ball, they’re hard to break down,” said Enright. “To beat them we’ll have to get kickers in the right positions. They’re very strong around the middle. Gary Brennan is a very good player. They’ve good forwards.
“Podge Collins, [David] Tubridy and these fellas who are used to playing in big games. They won’t be afraid of the occasion. They’ll relish it. They’ll try keep it tight at the back and hit us on the break. Look they’re a good team.
“We’ll have a game plan and if we carry it out as we can we should beat them, simple as that.”