Don't treat minnows as small fry, says O'Boyle
Antrim stalwart Kevin O'Boyle has stated that he would be "devastated" if the GAA were to split inter-county football competition into two differing levels.
Recent demoralising defeats for minnows, such as Meath's 7-13 to 0-6 win over Carlow, has led to renewed appeals from a selection of pundits and commentators for a second-tier competition to be established in order to give weaker counties a chance of success and dispose of the All-Ireland qualifiers.
However, O'Boyle maintains such a move would fail to grab the imagination of the Antrim players, as they prepare to travel to face Limerick in today's qualifier match.
"I would be devastated," the 26-year-old Cargin man says.
"I am an Antrim man and I would give absolutely everything for Antrim football. I am sure there are footballers on our team who are good enough to play for some of the top counties. But we will stick to the cause and we will play away for Antrim, because that is part of us.
"A few years ago we played in the Tommy Murphy Cup and we were sort of segregated. You felt second class in terms of how you were treated and you were watching everybody else going into the qualifiers.
"That's a big reason why I don't take the qualifiers system for granted. It's given us an opportunity like every other team. We are in Division Four, that's the position we are at, but whenever you are up in an Ulster semi-final against a team like Donegal, I fully believe we can beat them because on any given day you can rise to the challenge."
Any proposed splitting of the All-Ireland Championship would be based broadly along the lines of taking teams from Divisions One and Two as the senior competition, and Three and Four to play as an Intermediate Championship.
However, that would put an end to clashes such as Armagh and Monaghan, with Armagh falling through the trapdoor of Division Three this spring, just as Monaghan stepped up to Division One.
O'Boyle points to the success of minnows in the current World Cup as evidence of teams outgrowing their expectations, and adds: "When you train to play against the top players in Ireland and put yourself against them, to compete with them and see how you rank as a team and as an individual against them, it's days like that you look back on whenever you retire. Hopefully we will be able to do that too."
While Antrim are approaching this weekend's game with confidence, their preparations have been hampered by a number of players leaving to go on holiday, such as Conor and Ryan Murray, Ronan McGrady and James Laverty.
O'Boyle feels that this is a perennial problem, and requires action taken for the future.
"It is something that has happened in the past. It's probably something that should be set out at the start of the year and I assume it will be set out at the start of next year.
"But when it happens, it gives opportunities to other players, the likes of Benny Hasson and Declan Lynch. Liam Bradley has called up a couple of minors from last year's team and who knows, some of those boys might get the opportunity, just like Conor McKenna in Tyrone."
He adds: "The core group of players here in Antrim are here for the right reasons and they bring the right attitude and commitment. I am sure that if we had have beaten Donegal the attitude would have been different."
As for Limerick, he says: "I don't take qualifiers for granted. It's still Championship football and the side of the draw we are on, it's the good side of the draw.
"If you look further ahead of that there are more opportunities, but we can't look further than Limerick because it is going to be a tough task, especially down at the Gaelic Grounds."