Belfast Telegraph

The real debate is why Division One is so far ahead of the rest

It was only when Pat Flanagan weighed into the debate did we take any real notice of whether or not the football Championship truly needs another tier of competition.

Quite some time ago, hurling recognised the need to sort through the different levels of abilities within their sport. There are now four levels of All-Ireland competition and even at that, one-sided hidings still occur with depressing regularity.

But for a competitor to say there is a need to separate counties in football is new territory. It is also one that has not been unexplored, with an All-Ireland B competition running through the '90s, now defunct. That was a previous version of the Tommy Murphy Cup, which lest we forget was greeted with little or no enthusiasm before it was scrapped.

"I'm really getting worried about the gulf that's starting to develop. If we don't do something about it in the near future, we're going to struggle to have any sort of competition whatsoever. There's an awful lot of individuals putting in a serious amount of time. They need something different than coming up here as no-hopers," was Flanagan's assessment after his Westmeath side were trounced by Dublin, the winning margin no less than 16 points.

Former President Sean Kelly weighed into the debate with, "People talk about the element of surprise in the knock-out Championship. The backdoor has turned that on its head. The element of surprise is for the strong counties to get re-motivated and re-organised so that they don't get beaten again."

If things are unequal in Leinster it's the same elsewhere. Kerry have handed beatings to Tipperary and Waterford that were nothing short of unwatchable horror shows. They now have to kick their heels for 36 days for the Munster final.

When it comes to marching behind the band on provincial final day they will meet Cork who are 1/50 on to beat Clare in the other semi-final.

Out west, the Championship has been rendered redundant with the exit of Sligo. The only form of fascination, novel it may be, is of London's chances of reaching a provincial final.

It has been said too that the footballers of Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Antrim are merely playing out their side of the Ulster draw for losers' medals, given how impressive Donegal's defeat was of Tyrone and Down's 1-15 concession against Derry.

The provinces might be in rum enough shape, but to suggest that underdogs don't have their day is nonsense. In last year's Championship, Longford's wins over Laois and Derry could be seen as shocks. Antrim beat Galway on a glorious day and Roscommon beat Armagh. The argument can focus on how Division One teams are so much ahead of everyone else. This is what happens when the GAA finish tampering with the format so much and let the cream rise.

It's up to everyone else to rise up through the leagues and gain experience against the best. That's what a relevant league has done for us; provided meaningful football from February to September.

Isn't that what we wanted?

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