Congress cliffhanger in prospect over new proposals
Momentum may be running against All-Ireland quarter-final round-robin motion
Páraic Duffy: the director general of the GAA has been a primary advocate for the changes proposed at Congress. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Saturday at this year’s GAA Annual Congress will be another of those days absolutely dominated by one proposal, the football championship reforms that have been the subject of much debate in the past few weeks.
Adding to the intrigue is the sense that the outcome will be one of those cliff-hanger votes, which look definitely bound for majority support but in the context of the required two-thirds, remain uncertain. Ironically, later in the day Congress will debate a motion to reduce the weighted majority from two-thirds to 60 per cent.
The proposals will be debated at the start of the first session and by mid-morning it will become clear whether the association has decided to adopt on a trial basis the radical measures of round-robin quarter-finals in the All-Ireland football championship and the accompanying restriction on replays as well as the deletion of September from the senior inter-county calendar.
Going into the weekend, supporters of the reforms are edgily optimistic but in more reflective moments plainly unsure of what’s going to happen.
Four years ago on the Friday night of that year’s Congress in Derry members of the Football Review Committee were up late agonising over their suite of proposals, the most famous being the black card, and an air of resigned pessimism hung in the air.
Already recriminations about who might have given more support were beginning to fly but the following morning the FRC were successful in getting a number of proposals, including the black card, adopted.
The lesson is that gut feelings can prove unreliable guides to what delegates are thinking.
If the reforms fail it will be both frustrating and a disappointment for who originated the Central Council proposals and who has been invited to nine counties to sell the new blueprint – which he did with a reasonable amount of success.
That decision appears to have been well-founded, as a number of counties are voting for the ancillary proposals but not for the football restructuring.
Tactically it might have been better for the round-robin proposal had the two other motions on the football championship, from Laois and Carlow, been scheduled for debate at the start of the session, as neither are likely to gain support but as long as they remain live, the sponsoring counties will have no choice but to oppose the Central Council motion.
As things stand going into the Congress weekend it is estimated that the division of counties is breaking around 18-12 in favour of the round-robin quarter-finals with two either undecided or not mandated. Even though it’s the delegate count that matters, support for the reform would still be failing to reach two-thirds and a sizeable reinforcement from the overseas delegations would be needed.
That’s not out of the question and there is also a new factor in the voting, which makes the county declarations less reliable. Since 2012 the process has been electronic, which is fast and pops up on screen the percentages in favour and against – making it easy to see which motions have got 67 per cent and which haven’t.
From a delegation point of view however, there is simply no way of imposing the whip. Everyone in the hall presses a button in the blink of an eye and the votes are cast. If anyone wants to break ranks there is no way of detecting it.
Momentum in the last week has probably been more with opponents of the championship format. Both players’ organisations, the CPA and GPA, have issued statements calling for the motion to be defeated and although that doesn’t translate into numbers, as the GPA has just one delegate and the CPA none, it has added an element of negativity to the wider debate.
That might have been slightly ameliorated had GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail not decided to refuse the newly founded CPA a right of audience on the motion to recognise the body as the official representatives of club players. Instead the perception that Congress has exposed a fault-line between players and administrators has become easier to peddle.
The emphatic decision by Westmeath to oppose was unexpected, as the county had featured in most ‘yes’ columns. It is one of the places where Duffy had met the county committee but they didn’t vote on the matter that evening and by the time they did earlier this week, there was no mood to support the reform.
A fair wind and the motions will pass but at the moment no-one’s sure.