In the 2017 Leinster SFC semi final, current All-Ireland and Leinster Champions Dublin met Westmeath. The Lake County went into the game understandably as underdogs, but the result was fairly emphatic in the end – the Dubs winning by a staggering 31 points.
A win for Dublin was always likely in truth, but the margin of the victory highlighted the massive gulf in class between the two teams. This is a major problem faced by the GAA in recent times; the top counties are simply streets ahead of the rest. With this, the argument for a B Championship league has been introduced. But does this idea have merit?
The smaller weaker football counties such as Westmeath, Wicklow, Leitrim, Carlow and Longford, to name but a few are already at a big disadvantage. They have lower populations (with Wicklow as an exception) with fewer players to choose from. As this is an amateur sport, there are no transfer deals to buy and sell players. Every year if these minnows come up against a bigger side like e.g. Meath or Mayo, it really is a mismatch in terms of quality, and the outcome is nearly assured prior to a ball being kicked. The losing team would still have a qualifier match as a backdoor in the Championship, but upon losing that they are out of the competition. You would imagine that this restricted system would effect players’ motivation from the small counties. Where is the incentive for these players to train hard all year? They are just guaranteed to play two matches, and virtually zero chance of winning the competition on a whole. Remember this is an amateur sport; so all participation is on a volunteer basis.
Introducing a B Championship would help solve this problem. If the bottom 16 teams in the country played their own championship, matches on a whole would be far more competitive and entertaining.
However, Gearoid Adams, the Antrim joint manager feels a B Championship is somewhat demeaning;
“Once you go into a B championship, you’re basically second class. Do we want to make the top teams even better and we’re playing catch-up even further? The majority of the Antrim squad would enjoy an Ulster championship win rather than some secondary competition.”
Many managers echo this view. It suggests inequality and inferiority among counties. Pat Flanagan, the Offaly manager wants equal opportunities for all teams at the start of the competition.
“Everybody should be offered the opportunity to play for the A championship – and the B championship should kick into the place then. There is a gap developing but that shouldn’t take away from our national game being segregated for one group of people.”
Added to that, we must also consider that a new two-tier championship would be effectively scrapping the provincial championship as it currently exists. How would the new structure work? It has been argued that a group stage league format could exist similar to that of the Champions League in association football. Each team would be guaranteed to play the other three counties on a home and away basis. Laois manager Peter Creedon concurs with this-
“I’d be all for groups of four – the top two going to one particular championship and the bottom two to another championship. They all play off at the same time at the end of the year in Croke Park, the same date for semi-finals and finals. That’s what every inter-county player deserves – the opportunity to play before a big crowd in Croke Park.”
What’s clear is that something has to change for the All Ireland Senior Football Championship to evolve and stay competitive. At the moment the competition really begins in earnest in the later stages when the likes of Mayo, Tyrone Donegal, Kerry, and Dublin inevitably slug it out for the Sam Maguire trophy. Wouldn’t it be nice for the people of Leitrim to one day watch their team win any trophy in Croke Park?