As this season’s senior football championship enters its knockout stages, clubs have this week called for a full scale review of its structure as concerns grow over the present system’s suitability.
According to some, including both players and officials, the top tier of club football in Longford is in need of urgent revision.
Last November, the county board opted for a different look to the senior football championship football in a move away from the group format in 2011.
Then, 16 teams were pitted against each other in four groups with the top two in each pool automatically qualifying for the quarter-finals.
This time around an open draw - round 1 was made last November - allowed for four separate rounds of matches, eventually leaving eight teams in the knock-out stages and the bottom four sides facing relegation play-offs.
But it is the added incentive for teams to rack up high scores, so as to book so-called easier quarter-final matches, which has left struggling clubs like Sean Connolly’s scratching for answers.
“Hindsight is a great thing and I suppose when all of this was being set out they (county board) probably didn’t think that there would be so much of a gulf between top and bottom,” said the Connolly’s manager, Paschal Hennessy.
Over the course of their month-long campaign in the league stage of the senior championship, the Ballinalee side have lost all four of their games, shipping 101 points and posting just 17 in return.
It’s a statistic which Hennessy admits makes for grim reading. More strikingly, he believes the incumbent system has done little to instil much-needed morale in a club that has seen 16 players depart its ranks over the past three years.
“We would have preferred a three, two or even a one round championship. We knew how weak we were from the start. It’s very hard to go into games when you can’t even say to your players you have a realistic chance of winning; in fact you can’t even bring winning or losing into it. They know they are going to get a hammering.”
The huge gulf between top and bottom has also seen many supporters stay away from attending games at weekends, a harsh reality which means that the 1989 intermediate championship winners Sean Connolly’s now face an almost inevitable return to that grade next season.
“If you count up the scores we got from our four games it would be hard to win one of those matches. It doesn’t do us any good and neither does it do our opposition any good either. I have gone to games and I have seen more of our own people at other games than our own ones. People just don’t want to be seeing their own club players getting hammered,” he said.
Sitting just above them in the senior championship league table are Killashee. Recently, they took on Ballymahon in their own relegation play-off and, like Connolly’s, last season’s intermediate title winners failed to register a single victory in the 2012 championship proper.
Club chairman Owen Johnston said restructuring the number of matches played while offering teams bonus points could be the way to go.
“What about rewarding goals that are scored? Say, if Killashee scored 1-8 in a game and the other side scored 0-14, how about us getting an extra point for scoring a goal? Getting lads out to training that week (last round of matches) was a nightmare because they knew they had to go out at the weekend and stand in front of their families and get beaten yet again,” said Owen.
For those on the playing field, opinions seem to more accepting. Paddy Smith, a Mostrim defender, travels home every Wednesday evening for training. He said because players can’t really affect matters from an organisational viewpoint, the finer workings of championship football are rarely discussed.
“We don’t really talk about it, we just go out and play. What can you do? We have players that are missing, injured and players that have emigrated. But if we knew that ‘okay we have this team, we should beat them’ the more confident you would get otherwise lads lose interest fast,” he said.
If the views expressed by those at the lower reaches of senior championship football were forthright, the same could also be said at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Clonguish selector Pat O’Brien said the incumbent system was nothing short of “crazy” and only served to magnify the gulf in class between sides searching for Connolly Cup glory and the quarter of clubs fighting to stave off relegation.
“There have been very few competitive games and it (current system) has shown the difference between the top eight clubs and the rest,” he said.
That disparity is likely to weigh heavily on the minds of county board officials once this season’s senior championship race comes to a close in October.
For the moment, chairman Pat Cahill said nothing had, as of yet, been decided.
“All matters concerning the league and championship will be reviewed in October and November,” he said.
Whatever tweaks and alterations are made, it’s a debate which looks set to rumble on over the days and weeks ahead.