Does the Tipperary Senior Football Championship need radical reform?
On Ronan Quirke’s Extra Time programme last Monday night, Ronan finished his football championship round-up by asking analyst Martin Quinlivan if the Tipperary Senior Football Championship was in need radical reform. Time limits prevented them from delving too deep into the subject but no doubt it’s a topic that they will return to again in the future.
Of course before you can look at changing structures, you have to first and foremost be aware that changing anything in the GAA can be a very slow process. The GAA is a democratic organization, kind of, but is cursed with people who are terrified of change. You need only look at the opposition our county board met when they tried to tweak the senior hurling championship by removing the Divisional link. The traditionalists always seem to out-number the radicals and one often wonders if they had their way would we still be foraging for food and living on wild berries?
While every club loves being able to call themselves a senior club, the reality is that given the playing population of gaelic football in the Tipperary, 16 senior football teams is simply too many. Not everyone will agree with that opinion and while arguments may be made for and against having 16 senior football teams, I don’t think anyone can argue that we have 16 teams capable of playing Intermediate Football.
The knock on effect of having 32 teams in the top two grades means that the junior championship is now a competition to see who is the 33rd best team in the county which means that teams can often win this competition with very little effort and get themselves promoted to an intermediate championship that they don’t see themselves being competitive in. This results in teams either withdrawing from the intermediate championship entirely or ruining the championship by giving walkovers. In 2020,
4 clubs withdrew from the Intermediate Football Championship and to see the second most important grade in the county treated like that is not a good look for football in Tipperary, regardless of the reasons for those withdrawals. So what can be done?
To paraphrase, medieval philosopher, William of Ockham, the simplest solution is often best. 60 teams compete in the various football championships. If you introduce 5 grades, making the second grade in the county Premier Intermediate, then you are ideally set up to have 12 teams in every grade from Senior right down to Junior B. With teams all now playing at a level they can be competitive in (which is all any team wants) the standard of football in all competitions would improve. The championship structure would then look like the graph featured below.
Every team is guaranteed a minimum of 3 championship games (2 group games and at least 1 playoff or relegation game). You have an open draw in first round and with the first round winners playing again in round 2, you are guaranteeing that all 3rd round games will have something riding on them, be it aiming for a quarter-final spot or to avoid a relegation dogfight. In addition, with Tipperary now sending our 13th best team into the Intermediate Provincial Championship, instead of our 17th best team, it should ensure that the premier intermediate champions are in a good position for a run at provincial honours.
The above of course is for future discussion by men and women at a higher pay grade than myself so we will wait and see if there is an appetite for change amongst football clubs around the county.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, the current senior and intermediate football championships got underway last weekend.
In group 1 a strong second half performance saw Moyle Rovers run out 3.09 to 0.09 winners against Upperchurch/Drombane. Having led by just a point half time, the South men had strong performances from Stephen Quirke, Shane Foley and Luke Boland, who between them contributed 2.04 while Liam Boland proved that crime doesn’t pay, kicking 1.04 from placed balls.
In the last edition of The Premier Newspaper, I said that Upperchurch/Drombane would emerge from this group with Moyle Rovers. If they are to do so, they will have to improve and improve dramatically to get in ahead of a rejuvenated Aherlow side who backed up their West Championship win with an impressive 1.14 to 1.10 win over Cahir. The 4 point winning margin probably doesn’t do Aherlow justice because in truth, despite an even opening quarter, the men from the Glen were in cruise control for long periods of the game. Mark Russell’s form in the middle of the field must surely be catching the eye of county management while up front Barry Grogan continues to do what Barry Grogan does best.
If I wasn’t such a stubborn man, I’d think about changing my prediction in this group to Moyle Rovers and Aherlow but as I have already nailed my colours to the mast, I’ll stick with Rovers and Upperchurch to eventually pull through.
There were no surprises in Group 2 with everybody’s outside fancy for county honours, Kilsheelan/Kilcash comfortably accounting for Ballyporeen while in the other game Moyne/Templetouhy ran out 1:14 to 0.09 point winners over Eire Og Annacarty/ Donohill. The winners play the winners in the second round so at this juncture it looks like round 3 will come down to a shoot-out between Moyne and Ballyporeen to see who progresses to the county quarter-finals with Kilsheelan.
My fancy is for Ballyporeen to sneak through but Moyne, who had big performances at the weekend from Conor Bowe, Gearoid O’Connor and Jack Taylor, are a well organised and well coached side who won’t lie down easily.
Group 3 also went according to the form book, with Clonmel Commercials easily accounting for Ardfinnan and Arravale Rovers seeing off Moycarkey/Borris. Nobody will lay a glove on Commercials in this group and looking at their intermediates result on Sunday, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility they could have two teams in the senior grade next year (if indeed that is allowed).
Just like in Group 2, I expect the excitement in this group to come in Round 3 where Arravale Rovers and Ardfinnan will battle it out. I predicted Ardfinnan on the basis that manager Tom McGliinchey knows the time of day but it would be a foolish man who would completely dismiss the men from the West.
Finally in Group 4, Loughmore/Casleiney, despite been 8 points up at half time got a serious fright from Killenaule who dominated the last quarter of this game and had it back to 2 points before a late Cian Hennessy goal saw the Mid men win on a scoreline of 2:10 to 0:11. That win should be enough to book Loughmore a quarter final spot as, regardless of the result against their neighbours JK Brackens, they should have enough to see off Rockwell Rovers in Round 3.
The New Inn men were welcomed senior football by shipping a 5.11 to 1.08 beating from Brackens but they can take heart from the fact that they were very competitive in this game up to the loss of Patrick Keating to a second yellow card just before half time. However, when the points are totted up at the end of Round 3, I expect JK Brackens and Loughmore to emerge from this group with Killenaule my favourites for the Tom Cusack Cup.
In the Intermediate football championship Group 2 is shaping up to be the really interesting one. If results go along expected lines in this group, Commercials should finish in top spot and the second place position may well come down to score difference between Golden/Kilfeacle and Fethard who played out a 0.12 to 1.09 draw on Saturday afternoon.
Results in the other groups went along expected lines with wins for Fr Sheehy’s and Galtee Rovers in Group 3 and Clonoulty and JK Brackens in Group 4.
The only surprise for me came in Group 1 with the defeat of Clonmel Og to Mullinahone. I didn’t underestimate Mullinahone as they were very impressive on their way to winning a junior championship in 2019 and have some fine footballers. Where I made the mistake was I over-rated Clonmel Og.