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Seán Moran: Bringing All-Irelands back to September a curious piece of kite flying by Burns

It’s not entirely clear whether the GAA President was simply thinking out loud or seriously contemplating it

One of the most admirable traits of Jarlath Burns is his ability to articulate fluently and engagingly on a wide variety of topics in a way that isn’t given to everyone who makes a habit of thinking out loud.

The GAA President fluttered the dovecote on Tuesday by raising the prospect of a return to All-Ireland finals in September, one of the most lamented casualties of the reformed championship.

His comments came during an entertaining and informative discussion on Ratified, the GAAGo magazine programme. He was talking to the streaming platform’s senior football analysts, Aaron Kernan, Marc Ó Sé, Michael Murphy and Paddy Andrews.

It was noticeable that the topic was originated by Burns himself, first steering the conversation to the split season – in the positive context of how much he would have loved the week-on-week match schedules. He accurately characterised his playing career as involving years with “three pre-seasons,” as used to be the case up until this century.


The pundits, all distinguished former players and All-Ireland medallists, were actually quite supportive of the split season, Murphy and Ó Sé both asserting that they couldn’t see September finals returning – before rather than in response to the president’s comments – whereas Kernan and Andrews emphasised that club players loved the new calendar and felt they had been listened to in its implementation.

After Kernan had spoken about the desirability of expanding the schedules by even a minimal couple of weeks to allow more promotion of games, Burns interjected: “There is a way of achieving that – going right back to the two finals in September.”

Exchanges that followed were more along the lines of the difficulties facing such a proposal, for instance, the need to impose a uniform county championship structure on all counties, which he illustrated by talking about the different formats used around the country to cater for the extent of local schedules, Cork, and dual involvement, Wexford.

All told, it was a diverting discussion, but how seriously should we take it? It’s not as if Burns made this reawakening of September an issue either during his candidacy or in his inaugural address last February.

Some of those in the GAA familiar with his views and intentions were either surprised or puzzled, as it wasn’t believed to be a presidential preoccupation. The interview was pre-recorded and so couldn’t be seen as a palliative distraction for what has been a dull opening to the football championship.

It is more likely that the idea was floated as an example of innovation that might be possible if the association was willing to take radical steps – despite in this case such departures being all but impossible to envisage.

At one point he said: “Club players love it (the split season), but let’s not tie ourselves to that if we are going to innovate. Let’s think of where we are going to innovate.”

There was also reference to Cork CEO Kevin O’Donovan, who has long protested that casual, if well-intentioned, proposals to extend the intercounty season by a couple of weeks would, if implemented, cause the county’s championship schedules – barely containable as things stand – to burst.

The president’s words, raising the prospect at a time when all of his interlocutors appeared to have moved on from the idea, were curious. Staging All-Ireland finals in July has been the foundation stone of the reformed championship.

Going back to September is a traditionalist hobby horse – the GAA equivalent of returning to the gold standard – and it might briefly raise those spirits but, as Michael Murphy pointed out, the current split season model is only in its infancy and deserves a decent chance to establish itself.

Less deserving of patience are the provincial football championships, which even advocates must concede, are in trouble.

Former president John Horan’s support for ‘flipping’ the league and provincial championships had a muted reception four years ago, but advocacy for the idea is now quite mainstream.

Signs of decay have been everywhere. In schedules, notable for the number of clashes between neighbouring counties, attendances have been poor, most spectacularly the once bankable Dublin-Meath rivalry attracting only 21,445 on Sunday in Croke Park and that included those present for two national camogie finals.

Managers in Leinster routinely describe their football championship as broken and former Tyrone captain Seán Cavanagh floated the idea of a provincial competition, which excluded Dublin.

The problems are varied. Lack of competition – Dublin in pursuit of a 15th successive title and in Munster, Kerry going for 10 in 11 years – is the most pressing. In the first half of the last decade, Dublin-Meath averaged crowds of 61,774, more than 40,000 greater than last Sunday.

Kerry’s rivalry with Cork has atrophied to the point that when they play on Saturday, their most recent championship match from two years ago drew fewer than 11,000.

Ulster continues to provide competition with three Division One counties, next year, four, whereas Connacht also had three this season although Roscommon were relegated.

Making special provision for these competitive inadequacies would further strain the ties that have traditionally bound football and hurling – something the GAA has always been reluctant to do. But hurling is grand with its vibrant provincial championships and in no need of relocating to winter.

In the old days when every match was sudden death, there were intense levels of competitive tension. One defeat and it was off to America or back on the beer. Nobody pines for those days, especially after the Covid championships refreshed any memories that had become rosy.

More matches mean less jeopardy along the way. Is there any doubt that counties now target May and the Sam Maguire round robins, seeing them as when the year really starts?

Change is challenging and it’s unlikely to involve September All-Irelands any time soon.