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Antrim ace Fitzpatrick backs tiered Championship plans

Antrim’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, pictured in action against Tyrone pair Colm Cavanagh and Tiernan McCann, feels the time is right for a tiered Championship format in football Antrim’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, pictured in action against Tyrone pair Colm Cavanagh and Tiernan McCann, feels the time is right for a tiered Championship format in football
By Paddy Tierney

IT looks as though some form of a tiered Championship in football is coming down the tracks, possibly as soon as next summer and Antrim star Matthew Fitzpatrick feels change should be welcomed.

Speaking after Monday morning’s round one Qualifier draw, which paired Antrim away to Louth, GAA president John Horan reiterated his desire to see a tired format introduced.

“When I took over as President I promised that in the summer of 2019 I would put a group together to look at the overall schedule and fixture programme that we offer in the organisation,” Horan stated.

“Key to it all I think is that I would like them to come back with three proposals. To come back with one proposal and were it to fall would not serve any great purpose from the work of the committee.

“The indication I will be giving to them when they do come together is to come in with three proposals because there is a debate out there whether provincial championships should survive or not survive.

“That will be a decision taken by the membership of the organisation at Congress 2020, but in the meantime that offer has to be put on the table.”

He added: “When you look at the Championships in the last few weeks you see great local derbies and great matches.

“Then you see some games a little bit with too big a gap in the result. With a big gap in the result if you look at the draw we have made this morning you can see a large number of Division Three and Four teams already in the Qualifiers.

“So our hope would be that at the next Central Council meeting in June to bring forward a proposal to look at the introduction of a Tier 2 Championship for those teams in Division Three and Four.

“There is an appetite out there within the organisation for us to go ahead with a Tier 2 Championship. Now, I feel, is the time to grab that when the appetite is out there.

“I think we will possibly get it through at Central Council and if we do we will call a Special Congress in September or October time to have a look at putting this forward to have it introduced next year.”

The debate looks set to rumble throughout the summer, with the so-called weaker counties divided on the merits of a ‘B’ Championship.

Former Antrim captain Kevin O’Boyle expressed his opposition to a ‘B’ Championship on the eve on Antrim’s Ulster Championship tie against Down last year.

However, the mood within the current Saffron squad appears to be favouring change with Fitzpatrick expressing his support for Horan’s plans.

“I think it is a good thing,” said Fitzpatrick.

“Until you earn the right to play the top teams, you can’t argue with it. I think two tiers is plenty.

“You can always progress and, for the likes of Antrim, it lets us prolong our season. You can do more training, more work together and gym work, but you also want to play more games. I don’t see how you can argue against it.”

On a weekend when Antrim suffered a 14-point defeat to Tyrone, All-Ireland champions Dublin also flexed their muscle by putting 5-21 past Louth.

Pundits Joe Brolly and Kieran Donaghy also gave their backing to changes to the Championship format on RTE and Sky respectively.

Yet, the lack of coverage given to the second tier Joe McDonagh Cup in hurling has led to fears a second tier competition in football would also be shunned by main media outlets.

“As long as it doesn’t go like the hurling and you get a similar coverage and you aren’t playing at a stupid time or venue, I think it would be good,” cautioned Fitzpatrick.

“The games will be better because you are playing teams of a similar level. More people will want to watch the games as well.

“There’s no point in continuing the way it is. Tyrone beat us by 14 points, Dublin beat Louth by a handful. Eventually, more and more people are going to stop watching and people will stop playing.

“In every other sport in the world, that is the case, you earn the right to play against the top teams.”

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