GAA solution to a GAA problem but what’s the alternative?
For all their shortcomings the FRC proposals would improve the football championship
GAA president Liam O’Neill and Chairman of the Football Review Committee (FRC) Eugene McGee: The FRC would have become aware that there is a huge interest in the whole business of fixing the inter-county season. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
In a couple of months it will be the 35th anniversary of then minster for health Charles Haughey’s deathless description of his Family Planning Bill as “an Irish solution to an Irish problem”. This sprang to mind while scanning the second report of the Football Review Committee.
Since 1979 the mists of time have obscured the phrase’s intended meaning but the minister meant it as a positive reference to the ingenuity required to address an issue – provision of access to contraception that the Supreme Court had deemed a constitutional right a mere five years previously – while bearing in mind public and church sensitivities.
Over the years however the words have come to be regarded more in line with the view, expressed in the Dáil some years later by Eamonn Gilmore as, “the sort of fudge that has been the hallmark of many social reform attempts”.
In between the approving and pejorative lies the reality of what Haughey was attempting: to do the reasonable thing without annoying too many people but the compromises made the whole package unreasonable. There is a difference however between a government and a GAA committee: one has a guaranteed opportunity to pass laws whereas the other has to convince an annual congress if it wants change.
Not annoying people matters.
Eugene McGee’s FRC decided a year ago that it would be impossible to draw up a report that covered both the rule changes needed in football and proposals to improve competition structures and so the latter task was deferred for 12 months.
In the meantime the committee worked tirelessly and fought hard for acceptance of their rule changes in relation to the playing of football.
Competition structures are another day’s work. For a start this wasn’t just a single issue; there were two considerations: how to optimise the inter-county calendar and how to ensure club players – who are as we keep hearing, 98 percent of all footballers – are provided with a decent schedule of fixtures rather than a series of cryptic clues dependent on how the county team is going and the whim of its manager.
Then, as the FRC would have become aware, there is a huge interest in the whole business of fixing the inter-county season. Taking the second report on the road would be a far more wearying task than even plugging part one.
According to McGee the most obvious solution and the one which appeared to command most support was the “four eights” – basing the championship on adapted provincial lines so that the 32 counties would be arranged symmetrically.