Former Dundalk Gaels manager proposes overhaul of inter-county football


Caoimhín Reilly


Caoimhín Reilly


Former Dundalk Gaels manager proposes overhaul of inter-county football

Former Dundalk Gaels manager - and current Antrim senior team boss - Lenny Harbinson. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)

Former Dundalk Gaels manager - and current Antrim senior team boss - Lenny Harbinson has called for the abolition of the present inter-county pre-season competitions and the provincial championships.

Harbinson, who led St. Gall’s to All-Ireland senior club glory in 2009 before managing Gaels over two seasons, taking the Ramparts outfit to the championship semi-final in 2014, wants the National League and All-Ireland series to be merged.

Speaking to The Irish News, the Antrim man said: “Take all the provincial championships away and say we’re going into four groups of eight. Blend the league into the championship.

“The top four teams in each group go straight into the top tier knockout. Start it in January, and do away with the Mickey Mouse competitions.

“Come April, the top four go and play for Sam Maguire, the bottom four go into a second tier competition. You could seed it, two from Division One in each group, two from Division Two, and so on.

“You’re giving everybody a go at playing against teams, some who will be at their level, some who will be better. Some days you’ll compete, some days you’ll get a trouncing, but you’d hope that the rising tide would lift all boats and bring your standard up.

“If you don’t get in the top four, the secondary competition is there and run off side-by-side with the primary competition.

“Something like that would have worked a lot better. Instead, because you’re Division Three or Four, you’re shoehorned into a secondary competition and given no chance to affect that.”

Furthermore, Harbinson has laid out a blueprint on how elite-level football could be structured.

According to The Irish News, “the basic rundown is that the pre-season competitions are dropped, the league is brought forward into early January and played off as a double-round competition across the next 17 weeks.

“It’s split up into something resembling the old 1A/1B/2A/2B system, with the current standings used as seedings to split the 32 teams into four groups.

“The top four at the end of each group go into the All-Ireland SFC and the bottom four go into the All-Ireland IFC. Both are played concurrently and both are straight knockout, with an open draw.

“It’s all over by the end of June and each county has played a minimum of 16 games, comfortably more than the current minimum of 10. That’s if you include the pre-season competitions. If not, the minimum is just nine across a season that lasts at least six months, if not eight.

“All counties would be subject to a maximum spend of £500,000 per code across all their inter-county squads, from development up to senior, and must invest £100,000 into club coaching and development each year.

“Counties that run into an overspend would be deducted points in the following year’s competitions.”