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GAA players would snub any lower-tier series, says Down selector Coulter

 

On run: Down’s Donal O’Hare gets away from Colm Boyle of Mayo
On run: Down’s Donal O’Hare gets away from Colm Boyle of Mayo
Benny Coulter
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Down senior selector, the legendary Benny Coulter, has urged his county's delegates to Central Council to vote down both proposals to reform the All-Ireland Football Championship with two tiers of competition.

The GAA's Central Council has tabled two proposals for Special Congress on October 19 in Cork, with both retaining the present provincial Championship structure but placing teams in Allianz League Divisions Three and Four into a second-tier competition unless they were to reach a provincial decider.

As a side that failed to get out of Division Three this year, Down would be one of the counties earmarked for Tier Two if they did not reach the Ulster final in 2020, but Coulter believes there would be no real appetite among his players to participate.

"I wouldn't be happy going into it, definitely not," said Ulster's leading Championship goalscorer.

"I just feel that it wouldn't be good for players. I believe that if players had an opportunity to play in a lower-tier Championship, they would say to themselves, 'I will just stick with my club here. What's the point of it?'

"If you are into that sort of system, then club players would look at it and ask themselves, 'What is the point in hanging about?' Instead, they are going to go and give their all for the club.

"And that is no disrespect to anybody within that lower tier. If you want to apply that thinking, why not take the best four teams out and see if they can play in their own tournament and let everyone else play among themselves? I don't think that would go down well."

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After the past year spent assisting Paddy Tally on the Down sideline, Coulter can see the game from both sides now.

Down played their part in two hugely entertaining games against Armagh, which went to extra-time, and a narrow loss to Mayo.

Under the proposals to be discussed in October, it would be unlikely that Down would get to play a game of that magnitude against a top-flight side next summer.

"I think this year, even ourselves playing Mayo in Newry, while we didn't beat them it was a great occasion and Newry was buzzing for a week even prior to the game, and then that weekend. The amount of Mayo people up around Newry here, the place was buzzing," Coulter said.

"It was packed, the feel-good factor about it was great. There would be stuff like that I think we would miss."

Coulter also pointed out that a Down team he was a player on back in 2008 failed to make it out of Division Three when Wexford and Fermanagh were promoted, and yet they beat that year's eventual All-Ireland winners Tyrone in an Ulster quarter-final replay thriller in Newry.

"I played down through the years on some very poor Down teams. Some of our teams were Division Three and our best memories came with playing against the likes of Tyrone and Donegal, some great battles along the way," he said.

"I mean, we beat Tyrone in 2008. We didn't get out of Division Three that year and they went on to win the All-Ireland that year.

"I was down at the Down Under-20 game in Omagh on Sunday. A man came over to me and he said it was one of the best nights he ever had watching football. 'What a night that was,' he said to me. 'Even though we were beaten that night, it was one of the best nights I ever had supporting Tyrone'."

While Coulter believes that a Tier Two competition would hold little appeal for most counties, he does offer a radical change in how the National Leagues are structured.

"How about an extended league even?" he asked.

"Pull Division One and Two together, and Division Three and Four together.

"Play a big league at the start of the year when you get to play 15 league games each.

"It's back-to-back and from the third week of January you are out every weekend and then get your provincial Championship played after that."

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