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Longford manager Billy O'Loughlin's  remarks go to the heart of the dilemma facing the weaker teams

Longford manager Billy O'Loughlin's remarks go to the heart of the dilemma facing the weaker teams

Longford manager Billy O'Loughlin's remarks go to the heart of the dilemma facing the weaker teams

BEFORE the GAA’s provincial mandarins pop the champagne corks to celebrate saving their championships they ought to digest what new Longford GAA boss Billy O’Loughlin said last weekend.

There was nothing particularly new in O’Loughlin’s remarks, though it was refreshing to hear somebody inside the system articulate what everyone knows but rarely says publicly.

Setting out Longford’s goals for 2022, he said their ‘championship’ started when they faced Limerick in the first round of Division 3 of the Allianz League.

“We’ve seven championship matches in Division 3 and, after that, we don’t really mind what happens. That’s what’s important to us.

“When you’re trying to entice players into a county panel, from a Division 3 or a Division 4 standpoint, they see no merit in coming in and training for six months to play in a championship that they can’t win – and Longford haven’t won since the ‘60s. They’re not stupid.”

O’Loughlin’s remarks go to the heart of the dilemma facing the weaker teams – how to recruit and more importantly, retain players when their chances of winning championship silverware are virtually zero.

In 2015 Dublin hammered Longford by 27 points in the Leinster championship. For Dublin it was ‘Game 1’ in a remarkable six-season campaign which culminated them securing a historic sixth All-Ireland in December 2020.

Stephen Cluxton, Davy Byrne, Jonny Cooper, John Small, Brian Fenton, Ciaran Kilkenny and Dean Rock who featured in Game 1 in 2015 started in the 2020 final against Mayo.

Meanwhile, when Longford beat Louth in the first round of the 2020 Leinster championship, they had only three survivors, Paddy Collum, Colm Smyth and Barry O’Farrell from their 2015 side.

So, even though there are far fewer footballers in Longford capable of playing inter-county than there are in Dublin, their ‘fall away’ rate was 80 per cent compared to Dublin’s 60 per cent.

At Saturday’s Central Council meeting delegates are expected to back the so-called Green Plan as the blueprint for the reform of the All-Ireland football series. It still requires support from 60 percent of delegates at next month’s GAA Congress before it is introduced in 2023.

The GAA operate in mysterious ways to put it mildly. A special Task Force established by ex-GAA President John Horan worked for two years before producing a plan which contained two proposals for championship reform.

Proposal A, which involved equalising the number of counties in each province, failed to gain any traction and was never seriously considered.

Proposal B, however, which proposed severing the link between the provincial championships and the All-Ireland series became a ‘runner’.

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Predictably, all the provincial counties and most of the football superpowers like Dublin, Mayo, and Kerry, all opposed it. Ulster led a co-ordinated No campaign. Despite this the proposal received the backing of just over 50% of the delegates – ten percent short of the required 60% weighted majority.

Tweaking the proposal and bringing it back to Congress next month appeared the next logical step.

But the GAA do things differently. President Larry McCarthy set up a new committee to look at the issue again and the inclusion of four provincial vice-chairmen on the new ‘Think-Tank’ meant Proposal B was dead in the water.

Why? Well, as the Duke of Wellington said about the Battle of Waterloo it was ‘a damn near-run thing’.

There was no way the provincial councils would risk another vote on Proposal B next month in case it got past the winning post. Central Council quietly buried it on Saturday and accepted the so-called Green Plan.

It guarantees the provincial winners and runners-ups passage to the All-Ireland series. Granted it is a significant improvement on the current format. The devil will be in the detail, though.

The viability of the entire plan rests on whether counties like Longford buy into the Tailteann Cup.

The winners of the second-tier competition are guaranteed a place in the following season’s Sam Maguire series if they fail to qualify automatically.

Unless the GAA find a sponsor for the Tailteann Cup and reward the players with their own All-Star scheme then it will wither into oblivion much like the ill-fated Tommy Murphy Cup.

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