“Hats, scarves and headbands.” I can’t wait to hear that cry on Sunday outside Glennon Brothers Pearse Park when Longford take on Meath. I’m looking forward to the colours around Longford for this eagerly awaited Leinster Senior Football Championship quarter-final clash. The weather is supposed to be nice so a good crowd is expected to descend on the Midlands town.
The prize for the winners of Sunday’s game is a semi-final tie with either Dublin or Wicklow. Longford have a terrible record in the provincial championship; their last win was against Offaly in 2015. The last time Meath were in a Leinster Final was 2014; that was the last year Longford played a home game in Leinster.
Despite Longford’s poor record in the Leinster Championship there is something special about the championship. People in Longford still talk of the glory days of the 60s and 1968 when Longford won their one and only Leinster title.
People have spoken many times about bringing a tiered system into the football championship like they have in hurling. There are some good points for that; I never thought I’d see Longford win a hurling ‘All-Ireland’ in Croke Park but I was there in 2010 and 2014 when they claimed the Lory Meagher Cup.
On the other side we had days like Dublin in the Leinster Championship 2006 and the great qualifier run that year, the qualifier wins away to Derry in 2014 and Monaghan in 2016, to name but a few. We wouldn’t have experiences like that if Longford were in a tiered system.
Another thought about a tiered system is the coverage; I know first hand the interest from the media in the lower hurling competitions. Sure even the Sunday Game didn’t read the results of the other hurling competitions last weekend. What coverage would Longford, Wicklow, Carlow etc get.
This year the feel good story has been Carlow. The scenes of unbridled joy when they were promoted to Division 3 of the league after so many years in Division 4 were something to behold. As a GAA supporter I took great pleasure out of it. This weekend Carlow take on Kildare in the Leinster Championship with some people tipping them to win. Well last year they gave Dublin a real game and who’s to say they can’t repeat that.
Wicklow take on Dublin this weekend and it is disappointing that the game isn’t in Aughrim. I’ll go back to 2006 when the Dubs played in Longford. It’s a day Longford people won’t forget and Wicklow supporters and players should experience a day like that. Anyway they take on Dublin in Portlaoise Sunday. Don’t tell me that players like Sean Furlong don’t deserve a chance to play against the best team in the country.
Most players I’ve spoken to down through the years don’t want a tiered system they want to experience championship days against some of the best players around. The time and effort they put in playing for their county warrants big days in the sun (or rain).
The GAA need to look at their structures. Make changes to the way teams qualify for the qualifiers; the luck of a province might mean you get to a semi-final after one game and a better draw in the qualifiers. Bringing in the Super8s is only going to be of an advantage to the bigger counties and the teams with the biggest panels. We need to help all counties. We might not have many fairytale stories straight away but give counties the opportunity to write some.