Wednesday, October 30, 2019

IN 2008, Tinryland and Carlow footballer Shane Redmond made his senior debut for his county. You imagine it would have been a huge honour for a 19-year-old to be called into the senior squad. However, his selection at full-back for his county against Antrim in the Tommy Murphy Cup that year came with a caveat.

After an unmerciful 1-25 to 0-8 hammering by Meath in Leinster, Carlow were hustled into the secondary competition. Many of those players had no appetite for the Tommy Murphy Cup and Redmond recalls that at least 10 pulled out of the panel. Thence his elevation into the team.

Now history could be about to repeat itself. It is well-known now that at the behest of a special congress in Cork two weeks ago, a new tier two competition will be introduced in 2020.

So when Carlow take on Offaly in the Leinster senior football championship in the second week in May, the losing side goes straight into the tier two championship where, no doubt, they will be joined by many of the counties from national football league Division 4.

Redmond accepts his previous Tommy Murphy Cup experience forms the platform for his arguments against the new tier two competition.

“I am fundamentally of the opinion that from a players’ point of view, we have the leagues which are working quite well at the moment.

“The big fear from my point of view is if we are put into a tier two championship, all the prestige, attention, support and buzz around that competition goes out the window.

“This was tried a number of years ago and the premise of starting into a championship, having lost a big match in Leinster, is totally wrong. To get into this competition you have to lose a match, which is the wrong way to go about it.”

The Carlow footballer says the decision to introduce a tier two competition was rushed into and the fixtures review committee, which had previously been set up to explore various options for the future of the game, is now redundant.

Part of the remit of this body was to examine the club and intercounty structures and come up with proposals which would be more player friendly than they are at present.

“The committee hasn’t been given a chance. It is no use now,” Shane says. He argues that even less thought has gone into the introduction of the tier two competition than went into the Tommy Murphy Cup competition years ago.

“It doesn’t have a name. It doesn’t have anything different from the Tommy Murphy Cup. It seems to me the GAA are saying that any county with a ranking from 17 to 33 is not important to them.”

The Tinryland footballer says a majority of the current group of Carlow players are against a tier two championship and he was happy that delegates of the Carlow GAA county committee meeting voted in line with the wishes of the players in rejecting tier two.

At congress in Cork, delegates from counties including Armagh, Cavan, Leitrim, Limerick, London, Roscommon, Sligo, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford, and Wicklow voted in favour of introducing the new structures.

Clare, Derry, Laois, Longford, Offaly and Tipperary sided with Carlow. The proposal was carried by a 76-24 majority.

Redmond says it was scarcely believable that GAA President John Horan referred to a text message from an RTE contact during the debate at congress, which implied the station would provide coverage of the new competition.

“If you want something which will create a buzz and mean something… to go on the promise of a text message from a contact in a TV company is completely non-sensical.

“It was strange. It sends the wrong message about the importance of this. You have to build up interest in these kinds of situations so that the TV companies will want to come in and show the games.”

In 2017, after losing to Dublin in the second round of Leinster, Carlow went on a run in the qualifiers before eventually losing to Monaghan.

Last year, on a warm summer’s day, Tyrone came to Netwatch Cullen Park for a football qualifer. Redmond feels Carlow’s chances of hosting big teams like these will be greatly diminished now.

“Only two years ago we beat Kildare in a Leinster quarter-final. That day holds some of the most memorable experiences I have ever had on a football field.

“The days leading up to it. Brendan Hennessy’s commentary. Looking back at the crowds on the field afterwards. The buzz and what it meant to the people of Carlow. The Leinster [championship] will still be there but it is moving in the direction to cut out days like that,” he claims.

Tyrone’s visit was particularly memorable for him.

Having a home match against a team that went on to qualify for the All-Ireland final was huge for all the Carlow players.

“One of the abiding memories for me was before the match. Normally I wouldn’t be listening to what was going on but I heard Tommy Murphy saying over the loudspeaker that the stands were full. That doesn’t happen a lot. That hasn’t happened that much when Carlow are playing and it was great to see the way the population of Carlow got behind us.

“We allowed people to believe and while it was disappointing to lose at the end, it was a stepping stone. That is now going to be removed as we won’t be playing Tyrone in a championship match anymore.”

How would Shane feel if Carlow was to actually win the tier two competition? How would he feel if he was given the opportunity to lift a cup above his head at Croke Park?

“It would obviously be a huge privilege to do that and, in the moment, I am sure it would be great,” he says.

Shane prefers to look at the bigger picture.

“I don’t think it will change how I will feel next year if you compare that feeling (lifting a cup in Croke Park) to the feeling of beating Kildare and coming up against Monaghan and Tyrone with the buzz that creates,” Shane says.

The die is cast now. To avoid taking a place in the tier two competition, Carlow will have to beat Offaly in the Leinster championship next May.

If they don’t, Redmond says history will repeat itself and Carlow football will suffer.

“I can see nothing but a lack of interest from players, supporters, the media and everyone. In terms of the long-term progression of Carlow, it will be an absolute disaster,” he predicts.

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