AS I write this I have a sense of déjà vu. Another big game for Armagh and another heart-breaking penalty shoot-out defeat. I’m just back from a coffee with Aaron McKay and he was so disappointed he let me pay (again!).
I would suggest the next time instead of penalties we should have a supporter air-horn contest as Armagh would walk it. I bought my son and nephew air-horns on Sunday and I was stressed out. I spent the whole game apologising to people unlucky enough to be sitting beside me and every time Armagh scored the two lads were sounding like London during the blitz.
As disappointing as the result was, I have to say that the atmosphere at Clones was simply brilliant. A packed house with sunshine and a tight game, it was like a throwback to the good old days.
This leads me nicely into the crux of this week’s column. The new championship structure is, in my opinion, too convoluted.
You have your leagues, your provincials and then groups of four with three coming out of each group. Three of the provincial finals were simply unwatchable and groups that allow 75 per cent of the teams to survive are beyond boring. Do I have a solution? The answer is no. I do have a few suggestions, but not a perfect answer.
Firstly, I have previously referenced the competitiveness of the leagues with teams of similar abilities and I believe they are a better product than most of the provincials.
Secondly, I believe Ulster is the only competitive province and would leave it as is. I would seed Connacht and Munster in an attempt to at least achieve a competitive final. Leinster is a much tougher task with Dublin being a complete anomaly.
Thirdly, I would reduce the groups in the All-Ireland series to three to ensure competitiveness. Finally, I would tier the county system to mirror the club system of senior, intermediate and junior championships.
Leagues: To stay as is.
Provincials: Ulster to stay as is, Connacht and Munster to be seeded, Leinster to hope Dublin fall away in a cyclical process.
Grades: Senior, intermediate and junior with promotion and relegation between each grade.
Senior: Consist of 12 teams in four groups of three. They would consist of the four provincial winners, the seven next best league finishers and the winner of the Intermediate Championship. If a provincial winner is in Division One then go down the line of finishers in the league.
For example, this year you would have Derry, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Mayo, Roscommon, Tyrone, Monaghan, Armagh, Donegal, Louth and Westmeath.
Intermediate: The same format with the four losing provincial finalists, the seven next best league finishers and the winner of the Junior Championship. If a losing provincial finalist (such as Clare, Armagh or Louth) has qualified for the senior grade then go to the next best placed league team.
For example, this year would have Clare, Sligo, Cork, Kildare, Meath, Limerick, Cavan, Fermanagh, Down, Offaly, Antrim and the winner of the junior grade.
Junior: The remaining nine teams including New York and Sligo in three groups of three. Winners and best runner-up advance.
Senior: Top two in each group through to quarter-finals with the bottom in each group into a relegation semi-final. One of these four teams will be relegated to intermediate regardless of league position the following year.
Intermediate: Follows the same structure.
Junior: Winner of the Junior Championship promoted to intermediate level.
This is just a light-hearted suggestion and not to be taken too seriously. As a supporter you want the excitement of the traditional knock-out championship where you lose and you’re gone.
As a manager, this is not as appealing as to work for the best part of a year on preparation and then you’re gone after one bad day is devastating. I think this proposal marries the two together, in that games are meaningful and you can survive one bad day at the office.
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