Football Review Committee proposes four eight-county provinces
Unlikely to be a decision for the best partof two years at the earliest
St Brigid’s players celebrate winning last year’s All-Ireland club final on St Patrick’s day, a major event in the GAA calender. Photograph: Inpho/Ryan Byrne
The first thing to bear in mind about yesterday’s second report of the Football Review Committee – focusing on competition structures and fixtures scheduling – is it is largely aspirational and intended as the trigger for further national discussions rather than immediate or even medium-term delivery.
It will not be discussed at next year’s annual congress and therefore unlikely to be decided on for the best part of two years at the earliest.
Unlike the FRC’s first report on improving football, which yielded a number of controversial proposals for inter alia tightening up on discipline a number of which were passed by this year’s congress, there will be no campaign of advocacy to try to persuade GAA units to accept the above findings.
FRC chair Eugene McGee, who launched the report, which he described as a “discussion document”, at Croke Park yesterday, confirmed he has finished his work with the committee, which has now officially been stood down.
The key proposal is the regularisation of the provincial championships into four eight-county championships, simply by diverting three counties from Leinster and one from Ulster into Munster and Connacht. This according to McGee was overwhelmingly the most popular proposal during the consultative process with counties. “We felt that we were obliged to discuss it and justified in discussing it.”
Ingeniously, the FRC have recommended that these migrating counties will be decided on an annual basis by the outcome of preliminary matches in the two provinces. This circumvents previous speculation individual counties such as, for instance, Longford or Donegal might be asked to relocate to Connacht.
“The difficulty in doing that would be immense,” said McGee, “because it would mean certain counties would have to be picked out and designated. I was warned by some very wise people in recent years: you can’t pick out a county and say ‘you have to do that’. We consider this to be a fairer method. Any changes involved would be based purely on match results so it’s as fair as can possibly be.”
When it was put to him that the format would allow some counties to lose three matches (the preliminary round in Leinster or Ulster, the quarter-final in Munster or Connacht and finally a qualifier or All-Ireland match) whereas provincial champions are still not allowed to lose even one, McGee replied: “We don’t see anything wrong with getting three chances or losing three times because we can’t get perfection. We think it’s the fairest and the word ‘fair’ is important here. There’s very little about this which is unfair.”
He countered the argument that by reducing the provincial championships to six weeks of sustained activity (a fortnight for quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals respectively) the GAA would lose promotional opportunities by arguing that the more symmetrical system would enable the start of the championships to be promoted more effectively, describing the current format as “dribbling into action”.
“Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is apart from the odd exceptional match like Donegal and Tyrone. This new thing would allow the GAA to launch their biggest competition of the year, the All-Ireland championship, the Sam Maguire Cup, in the same way as American football launch theirs and (the same as) any of the biggest sports around the world. That has always been a big complaint even with the public and I’m sure the TV people as well that the GAA didn’t have that option because of the present system.”
Asked what happens next in the deliberative process, GAA president Liam O’Neill said that that still has to be determined. “We’ll put this out to our Central Council first. We’ll discuss it at our meeting in January and decide what the process is from there. It’ll go through the channels. Coiste Bainistí will be made aware of it immediately – our meeting is next week, next Friday.
“So that process will start and we’ll decide – depending on what the initial reaction to it is – where it’ll go but it won’t be going to Congress ’14.”
McGee reacted forcefully to the suggestion completing the All-Ireland club championships before Christmas was unrealistic, saying there was unhappiness amongst players at having to break for two months before completing the All-Ireland series. “We feel it’s not just an aspiration, we feel it should be a necessity because the starting point for improving the club situation nationally would be that the date is set for the All-Ireland club final.”
Asked about losing St Patrick’s Day (the date of the senior club finals) as a major event in the GAA calendar, McGee said that there were plenty of intercounty alternatives that could keep the date as an important part of the season.
The FRC also proposed retention of the Interprovincial competition and the International Rules series as well as leaving the Sigerson Cup in January and February, as the semester system and end-of-year exams in third-level institutions makes reverting to the autumn impractical.
The FRC II proposals, like those of last year’s first report, would apply only to football.
l Croke Park Central Competitions Control Committee should have overall responsibility for co-ordinating all fixtures at national, provincial, county club, third level and schools
l Period of mid-April to early August to see a significant amount of club championship activity
lAll-Ireland club season to conclude by December
l Championship to be organised on basis of four eight-county provinces with additional counties going into Connacht and Munster to be determined by outcome of preliminary rounds in Ulster and Leinster championships
l Provincial championships would be run off over six weeks
l Minor grade to be reduced from under-18 to under-17