Despite the weekend setback, top GAA officials remain hopeful that reform of the football championship is on the way with a new model likely to be trialled in 2023.
After the failure of the Fixtures Calendar Task Force proposal at Saturday’s special congress in Croke Park, both the GAA president and director general, who had supported the proposal in motion 19 for a league-based championship, confirmed at a post-congress briefing that there would be new proposals on the way.
Both Larry McCarthy and Tom Ryan were asked would a new championship structure be ready to implement the year after next.
“I’m hopeful,” said the president. “I don’t know what the timing officially is in terms of getting stuff through. I’m presuming that would have to mean bringing something to congress in 2022.
“I think every one of the people who spoke against it prefaced their remarks by saying we want change; we just don’t like this change. So even if they voted against it, and we got 50.6 per cent in terms of people looking for change, that would appear to me to be a huge mandate to push on.”
Ryan added: “It’s a challenge; there’s no point saying otherwise but is it possible to do? Of course it is. As we went through this process there were other options considered as part of it. There are plenty of other permutations but it’s not quite the same as going back to a blank sheet of paper. There’s still a huge amount of value in all of the work and thought went into it.”
In proposing motion 19 earlier in the day, former president John Horan had suggested that the league-based championship not come into effect until a two-year trial in 2023 so next year was always likely to be a holding operation, especially given the new Tier 2 Tailteann Cup and the introduction of a split season that will see All-Irelands concluded by the end of July.
The debate was notable for the near unanimity of speakers that change was needed – even those who disagreed with motion 19 – and the major reservations expressed about the marginalisation of the provincial championships, especially from Ulster delegates. Eight of the province’s nine counties spoke and voted against the motion.
McCarthy was asked did that mean that the role of the provincial championships would have to be reassessed.
“If you think about the eight or nine people who spoke against it all essentially supported their own provincial championship. So I think that would suggest it has to have a central role somehow.
“Don’t ask me what that role is. I guess one of the suggestions floated early was that there should be some link between the proposed provincial championship and back into All-Ireland championship in the summer. I must say I don’t know how you’d do that but that seems to be a desire.”
The most ardent proponents of motion 19 were the Gaelic Players' Association. Their chief executive Tom Parsons, who had spoken in favour during the debate, was asked at the organisation's own briefing for his reaction.
“Obviously disappointed and a lot of players will be disappointed. We started this campaign with a lot of sentiments in October that this was a dead duck and that it will never get passed. We won a majority today, 50.6 per cent, didn’t get 60 per cent.
“I’m hugely proud of the hundreds of hours that players have put in to get their voices heard and have done so with their colleagues and have stood very strong for change.
“Another aspect is, absolutely everybody who spoke for or against mentioned the word change and there is an acceptance that the status quo is broken.”
Asked would there be consequences for the views of the players being overlooked, Parsons pointed out that there had been a majority of delegates supporting the motion but said that failure to change by 2023 would be unacceptable.
“We’ll consult with players but there’s no doubt about it that a lot of delegates did listen to players. They came up and spoke passionately about change and referenced players again and again. I believe the dial over the last month because of players and facilitation of the debate by the media, I firmly believe the dial will shift significantly.
“Personally, I wouldn’t accept it’s not on the table for February. I expect when we consult with our players they won’t accept that something is not on the table in February and ready to be implemented in 2023.”
Clarifying, he acknowledged that a special congress in a year’s time might also fulfil that requirement.
“Maybe, yeah. Whatever mechanism is needed to ensure we get something in place for 2023.”
GPA executive co-chair Maria Kinsella summarised.
“What hasn’t changed today is the players’ desire for change. They have been very vocal over the last number of weeks for it. That hasn’t changed. The outcome of Proposal B failing, it is now up to ourselves to consult with the players and for all of the Gaelic family to make this a reality.”