Monday 23 October 2017

Barring Division 4 counties will not improve standard

Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball

Brendan Furlong
Brendan Furlong

There is no quick fix to the All-Ireland Senior football championship - not even the proposal of Central Council to bar Division 4 sides from the qualifiers, that is unless they quality for a provincial final.

Sacrificing the so-called weaker counties, some of whom unluckily find themselves in Division 4 of the league, will not bring about an improvement in standards, unless of course one of them happens to reach a provincial final.

Interestingly, two of the sides now playing out of Division 4, Wexford and Louth, figured in provincial finals in the not too distant past, with Wexford making a huge impact in the qualifiers.

Only last year they disposed of Down before going under to Derry. They along with Louth would not look upon themselves as Division 4 outfits, and even the notion of two such counties being barred from the qualifiers makes for pitiful reading.

Looking at the bottom line, there are far more implications in the thinking of the top table, as it could be far broader and not just confined to Division 4. I feel that should their latest proposal prevail, it's only a matter of time before Division 3 teams face a similar scenario, in order to streamline the quest for Sam Maguire into a 16-team race.

That would comprise of Division 1 and 2 sides only, unless some of the remaining counties qualify through winning their way to a provincial final. Even the notion of believing that the elimination of Division 4 from the qualifiers is going to bring about an improvement to the championship is difficult to understand.

The embarrassing factor is that so little is put in the way of footballing counties to bring them up to the required level. We all know the financial resources that Dublin have through sponsorship, and also through the €1m sports grant allotted towards the county back in 2005 for the employment of Games Development Officers, of which some €670,000 has already been drawn down.

Then just a couple of weeks back the elite position was given former player and Leinster strength and conditioning coach, Brian Cullen, adding further to their grip, not just in the financial stakes, but in their ability to employ the best even at Games Development level, which is also supplemented through the clubs.

Whenever I look at the National League tables it leads me to believe that there are so many counties who do not have the desire to mount a serious provincial title claim, let alone embark on a race for Sam Maguire.

So the isolation of just eight counties from the qualifiers would be just an embarrassment to the counties involved as is would need a small resurrection in commitment, organisation and levels of skill for the majority of counties to reach the levels of the likes of Dublin, Kerry, Cork, Mayo, Donegal, Tyrone, Armagh, Galway or Monaghan.

The re-introduction of another version of the Tommy Murphy Cup for Division 4 counties will simply not work. Players who are out of their provincial title race, and refused participation in the qualifiers, would simply prefer to return to their clubs, rather than face into a championship that is only a token gesture from the top table.

Because right now the stronger teams will only get stronger. The provincial finalists are protected, with the winners qualifying for the All-Ireland quarter-final, while the beaten finalists await the outcome of a diminished qualifier system.

I believe it's just not good enough to have eight counties pay the penalty. Perhaps the time has arrived to cast aside the qualifiers, which will be diluted anyway, with a 16-team 'B' championship comprised of teams who fail to make it to their provincial semi-finals.

The present proposal could see the sap being drawn out of football in the eight Division 4 counties who, while they may not be title contenders, thrived on the big qualifier game against one of the elite counties. Last year for instance, Wexford's football season following league relegation was salvaged with the qualifier victory over Down.

This was added to by their Leinster Junior championship success, which they could also miss out on, as it looks like ithis competition will be curtailed by the inclusion of weaker counties only along with Britain, no doubt to appease the overseas vote.

This could also be coupled with Under-21 being reduced to Under-20, with no player who figures on a Senior championship team list participating, while Minor will also be changed to Under-17.

The key for Wexford football is to achieve promotion from Division 4. At this stage their destiny is very much in their own hands.

Wexford People

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