A league of their own;Revitalising Club athletics
So when is a national league not a national league?
The indoor season in recent years has been at the forefront of innovation in Irish athletics. A new stadium, exciting meets, the introduction of live streams coupled with commentary from a group of extremely handsome young men and…Feidhlim.
One of the newest concepts to be introduced is the indoor National League which essentially is a scaled down version of our current outdoor national league. The only exception is the fact that there are no county teams. The teams who lined up in Athlone for Saturday’s league round two were competing club against club, representing their local area and taking pride in their club colours, one of the cornerstones of Irish Sport.
In recent times Irish Hurdlers guru, Jeremy Lyons, has created debates that have led to ideas like the changing of the dates which was a massive step forward in making the national league a more attractive proposition. The issue of county teams for me is still one of the biggest problems associated with the national league. The current national league tries to be all things to all men with strong club teams up against county teams. Imagine your local GAA football club team competing in a league with a county team and you are on the right track. It would be ridiculous.
The idea of county teams was brought to ensure counties with smaller clubs could compete in the national league and for a time it worked but it does make it very difficult for smaller club teams to compete against. It’s an issue that is only going to grow. There are two ways to go about resolving this: one is to remove county teams from the National League and two is far more radical, a change to counties only.
The first option removes the county teams which was a positive move seen as inclusive for the smaller counties but became a little ridiculous when the likes of Clare and Meath with strong club scenes started to form a county team.
The second option is to make the championship into a county only affair. We already place so little value on county and provisional level competitions – there are many runners who have county or provisional medals that they may not value and I have seen queues with more people than some county championships. How many times have you turned up to your county championships to small fields and poor competition? We need to revitalise the county championships and by extension the provincial championships. We need better competition at these championships and we need to value the idea of running for your county or province.
How many times have you heard someone mention that your uncle or aunt played football for Kerry, hurling for Tipperary? There are hundreds of people who have represented their county or even their province in athletics but we put very little value into this achievement.
Imagine knowing that if you cross the line first in your county championships you get to represent your county in the national league? Imagine if your county board actually let you keep your lovely county gear to be framed at a later date!
Is this an entirely separate competition than the national league?
There are of course many issues with this system, Dublin would be much too strong and foreign born athletes tend to congregate in the Dublin area. Dublin itself along with possibly Cork would have to be divided in two. Dublin North and South. Cork City and Cork County.
The concept of Rory Chesser, Mick Clohisey, Mark Hanrahan and Paul Pollock wearing their county colours and actually having to attend and win their county championship 5k to do so is an appealing one in my eyes.
Even more so the idea of winning your provisional championships and representing your province in a Senior Tailteann Games.
Why not reduce it to a few events, 100m, Mile, Hurdles, High Jump and hold it in Croke Park.
It might be a crazy idea but imagine being in Croke Park at half time in the All-Ireland Final and John Travers, Danny Mooney, Ciaran O Lionard and Paul Robinson battling it out in a grass mile representing their province. I’m sure they would bite your hand off.