All-Ireland SFC: Second tier championship fails to bridge the inter-county divide

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts the Sam Maguire Cup
Dublin can win a historic fifth consecutive All-Ireland title this year

The GAA is being warned that a second tier All-Ireland football competition will not bridge the gap between the top teams and the rest of the championship.

The introduction of a 'B All-Ireland' will be debated by members in October.

Dublin's bid for a fifth All-Ireland in succession has highlighted a widening rift with smaller-resourced counties.

"There's Dublin and then there's a gap to another four or five counties and then there's a scary gap after that," said Derry defender Chrissy McKaigue.

The GAA will hold a Special Congress on 19 October where members will discuss two possible championship restructures.

The two proposed formats both retain the traditional provincial championships but would require Division Three or Four teams to reach their provincial final in order to advance to the All-Ireland series.

Derry captain Christopher McKaigue lifts the Division Four trophy
Derry were Division Four champions this year but under the new proposals they would have to reach the Ulster final to enter the All-Ireland series

McKaigue, whose Derry side were beaten in the preliminary round of the Ulster championship, has welcomed the retention of the provincial system.

"It's great that every team would get to compete at the highest in their provincial championship," the Slaughtneil man told BBC Radio Ulster's Sportsound programme.

"When Roscommon won in Connacht, you saw the scenes of jubilation after that and even Donegal, how much Ulster meant to them.

"I know both of those teams were in Division One this year but I just think the provincial championships have to stay in some capacity."

Teams facing a mass exodus

McKaigue, who is also the Club Players Association representative for Derry, has warned that so-called weaker counties will struggle to retain players for a secondary championship that does not have the same tradition or prestige as competing for the Sam Maguire Cup.

"My fear is that just wouldn't entice enough players and there would be a mass exodus to the US, players would lose heart in playing county football," the dual star argued.

"From my perspective, and from talking to a lot of the players, there's a huge prestige and huge honour in playing at the top level.

"Only one team can win the Sam Maguire and only one team can win each of the provinces. Sport can't always be about winning, surely there has to be something more about it and there is huge honour in playing against the best teams at the best level."

How the GAA treats any potential second tier competition will be crucial to its survival, says former Armagh player Oisin McConville.

BBC Sport's Oisin McConville
Oisin McConville says there will be a 'real reluctance' to abandon a two-tier structure once it is implemented

The BBC Sport NI pundit describes the proposed changes as "a starting point" but feels that any new competition must be treated as an equal to the All-Ireland series.

McConville added: "If you're in Division Three or Division Four and you've had a crack at your provincial championship and you then go into a Tier Two system that is marketed correctly and is approached in the right way, then I think it is something that we could sell to players.

"I understand that it is very difficult for a lot of players to accept that they're not going to get that second bite through the qualifiers.

"We won't really know the reaction and we won't know how well it goes until we've changed and once it has changed then there will be a real reluctance to go back."

Disparity of resources

"The biggest issue is why we feel the need to talk about tiered competitions," added McKaigue.

"A huge theme developing in inter-county sport at the moment - both hurling and football - is the disparity in terms of the resources available between the counties.

"Dublin have the best players at the minute, there's no doubt about that and in many ways people aren't giving them enough credit for what that group of players and Jim Gavin have done, but there's also no doubt about it that they have the most resources and a lot of things in their favour too.

"The biggest four or five counties in both hurling and football have huge resources available to them that other counties don't have either so it's not just a Dublin thing."

Derry's Chrissy McKaigue is in favour of retaining the existing All-Ireland championship structure
Chrissy McKaigue played three Championship matches for Derry this year

Former Tyrone midfielder Enda McGinley believes the tiered format can only be a success if there are resources made available to help teams to bridge the gap to the top level.

"Teams that are in the second tier should be getting twice the amount of funding for coaches and games development officers within their counties and that funding should continue for say one or two years after they do manage to make the step up," said McGinley.

"The funding and the development of the Tier Two teams has to be the priority and to do that the GAA has to put their money where their mouth is and support it by making sure that the games are well covered by the media, in terms of their TV deals, and also through funding."

The proposed changes to the All-Ireland SF Championship will be sent to each county board for further discussion before a final working of the two proposals is agreed in September.