Westmeath votes in favour of Tier 2 football proposals
Delegates at the reconvened Westmeath GAA county board meeting on Monday night voted by an overwhelming majority to support the motion before next Saturday’s Special Congress, which proposes to introduce a Tier 2 football championship scheduled to start in 2021.
At the outset, Central Council delegate Tom Farrell and Patrick Doherty (head of operations, Westmeath GAA) clarified what was involved in the proposed championship restructuring. It will be recalled that the debate at the previous county committee meeting became mired in confusion.
Tom Farrell explained that the proposed Tier 2 championship did not contain “any suggestion that the existing quarter final group (i.e., the Super 8 groups) structure would become permanent”.
Patrick Doherty explained that the existing provincial championships would remain unchanged and that the proposed changes related to the means of qualification for the newly proposed championships. The Tier 1 championship would consist of teams from Division 1 and 2 of the National Football League, teams from Division 3 and 4 that qualified for provincial finals and the previous year's winner of the Tier 2 championship.
The proposed Tier 2 championship would be confined to counties in Division 3 and 4 unless they qualified for their provincial basis. It was also proposed that the draw for this championship would be organised on a geographical north-south divide.
County chairman Billy Foley led the debate and supported the new proposals. “Every county still has a chance of winning their provincial and All-Ireland title,” he explained. “There are no initial conclusions and our experience hurling would suggest progress is possible from operating in a graded championship.”
Kevin Jordan (Southern Gaels) strongly supported the proposed changes also: “It gives everybody a chance in a meaningful competition. Hurling operates a five tier system and hurlers are playing at levels that suit them. Restrictions operate on who can win the MacCarthy Cup which is not the case with the Tier 2 championship.”
Mr Jordan suggested that the final should be held as curtain raiser to the All-Ireland football final as a replacement for the existing minor finals. Tom Farrell explained that the proposed new competition would be promoted to a high standard and this would be tied in to the new broadcasting contracts due for renewal shortly.
The Tyrrellspass club “completely rejected” the proposed changes out of concern about the impact they would have on club fixtures. Nollaig McEntegart (St Brigid’s) expressed some concern about the impact qualification for a final would have on the length of the season and the consequent impact on club fixtures (“a fantastic hurdle if we had to overcome it”, saud Pat Doherty).
Tom Hunt (Mullingar Shamrocks) queried the rationale behind dividing the championship on a regional basis and felt that it would reduce the attractiveness and novelty value of the competition, “as Waterford and Limerick and Wexford might end up playing each other every year”.
Billy Foley saw more positives to the potential change: “From purely a selfish basis it would be a good competition if Westmeath were knocked out of the championship at an early stage and were a Division 3 team again. It would be something to look forward to”. He was supported by Mr Doherty, who suggested out that it would give Westmeath “a realistic opportunity to win something”.
Inspired by this contribution, some delegates explored the positive value of a Tier 2 championship from the fundraising perspective. Success would ease the burden of finance raising. The people of Leinster especially should welcome this competition.
Before the debate concluded Billy Foley returned to one of his favourite themes: “We are a great GAA county,” he explained, before he delivered the extraordinary statistic that the county has 14,000 members of the GAA out of a total population of 89,000.
This concluded the debate and on the proposals of Des Maguire and Kevin Jordan, the motion to support the proposed Tier 2 championship motion was passed on a show of hands.
Delegates were given the freedom to support the Tipperary motion or the Central Council motion on the definition of Division 3 after listening to the debate at the Special Congress. The Central Council motion defines Division 3 as it stands at the start of the National Football League and the Tipperary motion seeks to define the division at the end of the League campaign (the two relegated teams from Division 2 would compete in the Tier 2 championship).