TIME FOR CHANGE | GAA Special Congress will convene on October 23rd to debate and vote on potential structural changes to the football championship
BY MICHÉAL O'SULLIVAN
CHANGE is generally driven by a need for improvement. Later this month the GAA will hold a special congress to debate and vote on a potential seismic change to the competition structures of inter-county Gaelic football.
But will either of the options on the table actually deliver this improvement?
Delegates from the county boards will be asked to vote on two proposals for the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship for 2022 from the GAA’s National Fixtures Calendar review Committee.
In this past summer’s championship, one sided contests dominated, shining the spotlight on the need for a rethink.
Option A sees the provincial championships with four groups of eight, split into two fours and games would be run on a round robin basis.
The winner of each group would advance to the quarter finals with the bottom side dropping to the newly formed Tailteann Cup if they are a Division 3 or 4 team.
While the teams in second and third would advance to the qualifier series with places up for grabs in the quarter finals.
Option B would see the football championship played in a league format in the summer with the provincial championships played off as a pre-season competition.
Five Division 1 teams, the top three in Division 2 and the winners of the third and fourth tiers would advance directly to the All-Ireland series while Division 3 and 4 teams who don’t qualify would play in the Tailteann Cup.
So seven rounds of the Allianz League would be played with the finishing places determining who plays for the Sam Maguire. The second and third teams in Division 2 would then face the Division 3 and 4 winners in preliminary quarter finals to determine who advances.
Should neither proposal receive the required 60% backing of delegates, next year’s championship will revert to the status quo, mimicking qualifier systems which were used between 2001 and 2017. The Super 8s, after two years of its three year trial, has been dumped as it wasn’t suited to the new GAA split season.
Inter-county players are in favour of changing the structure of the All-Ireland Senior football championship according to the Gaelic Players Association (GPA). The word is that players are in support of Option B, the reason being that it offers the best opportunity for teams and players to develop. The GPA has contacted each inter-county squad to ask them to lobby their county boards to back Option B.
Looking at both options and with the position of Cork football in the back of my mind, the two of them are rife with flaws and I would expect that neither will receive the required 60% of delegate votes to be carried. Change is about improvement so do either Option A or B offer that opportunity?
Tyrone great Peter Canavan said recently on Sky Sports ‘that it’s easier to explain what doesn’t work with Option A.’
Under this proposal, counties will be asked to move from one province to another. One Ulster and one Leinster would move to Connacht and two from Leinster would come to Munster.
This sounds crazy to me. How do you choose who moves? You are asking a county to give up their GAA history within a province, possibly devaluing past great victories in provincial championships and start a new somewhere else.
Ulster GAA chief Brian McEvoy said ‘it smacks of Oliver Cromwell and to hell or to Connacht’.
Option A does nothing to deter the one sided nature of provincial championships, for example in Leinster, Dublin will still dominate and here in Munster the same would be expected of Kerry.
There will be a lot of meaningless games.
You still would not improve football with the bigger guns still taking on the lesser ranked teams. However from Cork’s point of view, with two groups of four and the possibility of avoiding Kerry, qualification for the All-Ireland series and playing more of the top teams would be realistic every year.
Option B sees the provincial championships being moved to the start of the year, in essence a pre-season tournament, akin to the McGrath Cup in Munster or the McKenna Cup in Ulster, divorced completely from the All-Ireland series.
It’s hard to see Ulster agreeing to this considering the revenue the Ulster championship currently generates.
Under this format Division 1 teams who are placed 6th/7th and 8th would be out of the championship. That would equate to three of your top eight ranked teams.
This qualification system is riddled with flaws such as de-incentivisation. For example if a team lost their first few games in Division 1 they could choose to get relegated knowing you will probably make the All-Ireland championship from Division 2 next year.
Imagine, with the competitive nature of Division 1 that we have witnessed over the past number of seasons, the All-Ireland champions may end up not getting the chance to defend their title.
So as a Division 2 team at the moment if Cork finished in the top three, which is very achievable, they would have a great chance of qualifying for the All-Ireland series.
The Division 3 and 4 teams that don’t qualify under both options are being catered for by the Tailteann Cup and the top teams are being catered for with a run at Sam Maguire. But what about all those teams in the middle that may be out of the championship after the group or league format. Why isn’t there a mid-tier cup for these teams to compete in?
The advantages and disadvantages that both these options have offer so many opportunities for debate and either option will suit some counties and not others so it is hard to see enough of an agreement being reached to gain the required 60% to carry either.
But for Cork, either option offers more competitive games and a realistic path to the All-Ireland quarter finals each year which would be a good starting point for us.