Winter is coming. Fans of Game of Thrones will be familiar with that quote. It is the motto of House Stark, the Lords of the North, who are always preparing for winter. It hits their lands more than any other and can go on for years. They are a deeply cynical bunch up there. Far from the lush pastures and opulence of the south they are used to making do with an unforgiving landscape and the deck stacked against them.

We, here in Fermanagh, are the Starks, and winter is coming in the shape of the tiered championship. It is around the corner. The ducks are in a row and their fate is sealed. It is an inevitability. And it will ruin inter county football in a swathe of counties. Fermanagh is one of them.

Propaganda, it has been said, should be pleasing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have to be intellectually robust. And what we have had over the past number of years, in terms of the arguments made in favour of a tiered championship, has been pure propaganda.

You have heard the adage that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth. Well, this has never been more apt than the ill researched argument that there are far more hammerings now than there was ten years ago.

The evidence says no. I delved back all the way to 2004, it was a good year after all, and compared that championship to the championship of 2017. 2017 was the last championship prior to the super eights and was chosen to ensure like was compared with like.

There were 60 games played in the 2004 championship with an average winning margin of seven points. In 2017 there was 62 games played with an average winning margin of 7.2 points. Oh, the horror of a 0.2 increase.

In Connacht the average winning margin dropped from 13.8 points per game to 7.8 between 2004 and 2017. In Munster it dropped from seven to four. In Ulster it stayed the same on 7.5. And then we come to Leinster. It increased from 4.7 to 9.45. I wonder why that was?

Alas, we continue. First round of the qualifiers: 8.7 winning margin in 2004 and 4.9 in 2017. Second round: six-point margin in 2004 and 7.6 in 2017. Round three: 8.75 in 2004 and 3.75 in 2017. Round four: 5.5 in 2004 and 6.75 in 2017. Quarter finals: 3.5 in 2004 and 12 in 2017. Semi-finals: 2.33 in 2004 and 5.66 in 2017. Kerry won the final by 8 in 2004 and Dublin won by a point against Mayo in 2017.

OK, so that is a lot of stats. But the long and the short of it is that there has not been an exponential increase in hammerings as we have been led to believe. Now, let’s consider that Dublin were beaten early in Leinster in 2004. They were not the superpower they are now. They bowed out to Kerry at the quarter final stage that year, by seven points. Fast forward 13 years and Dublin march to the final of the All Ireland by an average winning margin of over 14 points before Mayo finally gave them a game. Dublin and their brilliance have skewed people’s perception so much in recent years. But they are but one team.

The one stat that jumped out at me from the above was the 9-point increase in winning margin at the quarter final stage. Was this an anomaly? Let’s compare the years immediately after 2004 and immediately before 2017. Average winning margin at the quarter final stage in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 was 3.5, 4.4, 4.2 and 3 respectively. 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 we see average winning margins of 6, 11.75, 6.5 and 12.

Looking at those two blocks of four years the winning margin has jumped from four to nine points.

Now I promise that is the last stat. But what it illustrates to me is that the gap between the top three or four teams in any given year and the next 20 teams is greater now than it has ever been. What else explains the fact that at the quarter final stage the games have been getting less competitive? Is this an argument for a tiered championship? I suppose it is if you are advocating a top tier of four to five teams, but no one is doing that. The most prominent argument is for a two tiered championship with 16 in each tier.

What the GAA should be doing is asking itself how can the gap be closed between the top four and the rest.

Moving on. The last bulwark against a tiered championship was that players were against it. It appears now that they are in favour of it. Or at least that is what the latest GPA survey says, quoting 60 per cent of players as now wanting a change. I would love to see the breakdown. I may be wrong, but I have a hunch that players in the elite counties are in favour of this. I wonder what the percentage is from counties ranked 12 to 28 in last year’s league. A tiered championship has no potential adverse implications for the elite counties, who will consistently be reaching the super eights. They are voting on something that will never affect them.

It rather reminds me of the pig and the chicken when it comes to a cooked breakfast of eggs and bacon. One is involved, and the other is committed.

Large portions of the media have jumped on the bandwagon when it comes to advocating a tiered championship, both in opinion pieces and in player interviews. Emlyn Mulligan of Leitrim is one player who consistently has been quoted about his desire to see a tiered championship. Mulligan is a terrific talent and would walk on the majority of inter county teams. He must be frustrated. But here is the uncomfortable truth about Leitrim. The leagues were changed from 1A, 1B, 2A and 2B in 2007 and Leitrim found themselves in Division Three in 2008. They were relegated to Division Four that year and they have been there since.

If a county spends 10 seasons in Division Four without getting out of it then it demonstrates systematic problems within that county. Yes, they have a small playing pool, but hey, don’t be complaining about that to a Fermanagh man. A tiered championship will not help Leitrim be the best that they can be.

Here is what a tiered championship will do.

1 - It will decrease interest in players in at least three quarters if not more of those teams in the second tier. Players won’t want to play.

2 – It will lead to less media coverage of second tiered counties. Just look at the startling fact that a hurling friendly between Galway and Kilkenny played in Sydney garnered more coverage in national media than the Joe McDonagh, Christy Ring and Lory Meagher Cups combined. The media cover the elite more than the rest. A fact.

3 – It will diminish interest among younger people in second tiered counties. Once, they could aspire to have the opportunity to compete against the best. Now they will see playing for their county as something mired in mediocrity.

The GAA is in trouble. Its elitist attitude has it this way. We need to focus on what the GAA is supposed to be about at its central core, and that is the promotion of our games. A full-time hurling coach in Fermanagh could have been funded for the best part of ten years for the cost of the Galway Kilkenny exhibition game in Sydney.

Croke Park need to stop abdicating responsibility of the promotion of our games to county boards. Instead it should advocate the shortening of the inter county season further. It should make concerted efforts to improve and promote the GAA in each county by forcing the county boards to work to its tune. And that tune should be about allowing each county to reach its potential. That doesn’t mean winning All Irelands either, but rather that the next generation have an enthusiasm to play our games.

The GAA is failing on all these counts in most counties. They are obsessed with the elite teams and they are stacking the deck more and more in their favour.

Winter is coming. And it will be permanent.