Weeshie's Week

The debate over Divisional teams in the County Championship

November 6th, 2012
by Weeshie Fogarty

Human nature being what it is and Kerry being the fanatical football county we live in it was really as inevitable as night follows day as soon as Paul Hayes had blown the full time whistle in Dr Crokes stunning display and victory in the recent county final that questions would arise as to the strengths and weaknesses of our senior county championships. Of course many of the mutterings and debates I have heard since that day were prompted by Crokes very comprehensive and facile victory over Dingle. I should clarify my remarks in relation to this topic by adding right away that it has been my experience over the years any time one particular team begins to dominate the championship then followers of the game in general begin to question the afore mentioned strengths and weaknesses.  And now as Dr Crokes strolled to their third consecutive victory and as I wrote here last week they are quite capable of equaling John Mitchels astonishing five-in-a- row during the sixties questions again do the rounds about the championship.

So let's get one thing straight right away, Crokes are not alone the best side in Kerry but potentially the best side in Ireland so that massive success they are enjoying is down to organization, hard work, hightly skilful footballers, very knowledgeable men on the line and a continuous burning desire to continue winning. Their win in Quilty last Sunday only added substance to all of this. So whatever the make up of our championship their winning ways must not be in any way questioned in relation to this. It is up to all other championship sides in the county to endeavor to reach that peak of perfection.  However in my opinion the county championship has been slowly and gradually deteriorating over the past number of years and if you have attended any of the preliminary rounds in particular and seen the paltry attendances and poor fare served up then is very difficult to put up an argument for the back door system which we have been enduring for the past number of years. And this was the first nail in the proverbial coffin as the standard in the opening rounds dropped completely.

Now I can well understand that undoubtedly the divisional teams need much more time to get organized than the club sides and very simply without making the thing too complicated why not have the divisional teams play off in a preliminary pool, two games each even under lights in mid week and then the two top sides go into a knockout draw with all the club sides.  Feale Rangers and St Kieran's in particular can count themselves unfortunate that both did not advance further in the championship this year and their displays against finalists Dingle were the best games I saw in the championship.  It was very evident St Kieran's had been superbly prepared and Feale Rangers under lights against Dingle was then best game I saw. Indeed I must say maybe one or two shrewder side line switches and one of these divisional sides would have faced Crokes in the final, and in fact if Eamon Fitzmaurice had been in the Feale rangers line up I am utterly convinced he would have swung the game to the North Kerry men so close was the contest.

Now I must also add there have been calls over recent years to make the championship an all club competition and end the participation of divisional sides but to me this would be a backward step. In fact I will go further and add I am of the firm belief more efforts should be put into helping prepare and strengthen divisional sides in this county. Cork by the way are the only other county in Ireland with divisional sides in their championship. These combinations have been a massive part of Kerrys continued success. And when you look at the winning runs of divisional sides down the years and the great players they helped to develop, mature and bring to the attention of selectors a firm case can be made for their continued retention, but only if they are helped prepare in the required manner.

Just take the South Kerry divisional sides three-in-a-row wins, 2004-05-06; they coincided with a golden era in Kerry, contesting three All Irelands, winning two. Back in the sixties Kerry were going through a terrible losing streak from 1962 to 1968 and were at very low ebb. The East Kerry divisional side was formed and began to dominate in Kerry winning a hat trick of county titles in 1968-69-70. Was it just coincidence that Kerry reached three All Ireland finals in those three years, winning two?  Mick Gleeson, Pat Moynihan, Donie o Sullivan, Din Joe and Derry Crowley arrived on the scene with that side. The very same East Kerry division won another three titles in 1997-98-99. Kerry had gone through one of their worse ever losing sequences since their last All Ireland win in 1986, Seamus Moynihan, Johnny Crowley and Donal Daly had developed into superb footballers on the championship front and helped in Paudie's o Se '97 win. Another coincidence?  And what about the magnificent Dingle team of the thirties and forties, another golden era in Kerry's story. That Dingle side was made up of no less than five clubs. Legendary players developed, matured and gained huge experience before massive home crowds, and inevitably the Krry selectors came calling.  Coincidence again? There is no doubt but there is strength in numbers.

Unfortunately now we have the situation where our divisional sides are continuously fragmenting and getting weaker as Intermediate winning clubs have the option to go alone in the county championship and while most will not have a snow balls chance in hell of ever winning the championship their departure from the divisional side also greatly diminishes their chances. It's a vicious circle and I believe the simple answer is, make it much more difficult to gain entry into the championship; e. g. win the Intermediate and one another county title in the same year. Well done to Finuge on their re-played county final Intermediate win over Spa last Sunday. Will they decide to go alone next year? I mentioned that Feale Rangers were one of my top sides in this years championship, Finuge had five players on that panel, if they go alone Rangers will be weakened greatly.  Dr Crokes have set high standards, the Kerry county championship deserves to be hugely competitive from the very first game. There are some brilliant football brains in this county, men and women not involved in the administration of the game. Bring a group of them together for a few winter evenings and see what they think, because new thinking is badly wanting.

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