For all the claims of a willingness to change, Motion 19 was well short of 60% support

Ghost of the provincial championships possessed the thoughts of the Ulster counties

Tom Ryan: ‘Plenty of people want things to move on so we keep going.’ Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Tom Ryan: ‘Plenty of people want things to move on so we keep going.’ Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

There was an Augustinian theme to Saturday’s GAA Special Congress: make us reformed but not yet. After 74 minutes of debate the outcome was that there would be no league-based championship in place for next summer.

Motion 19 fell having narrowly won the vote 85-83 but a long way short of the required 60 per cent needed to change the Official Guide.

This was despite earnest arguments about how inadequate the current structure was and how bringing football’s most rational competition, the league, into the summer would give graded competition, certainty of fixtures and a standard season to all counties.

The rehearsed arguments against the motion were patiently rebutted. For instance, the lament that not all Division One counties would be admitted to the knockout phase of the All-Ireland was skewered by Cork CEO Kevin O’Donovan.

He pointed out that if Cork hurlers finish fourth in their Munster round robin, they exit the All-Ireland race whereas the finalists in the Tier 2 McDonagh Cup are allowed to proceed to a preliminary quarter-final – and not a word about it.

There were two essential problems.

Firstly, everyone accepted that the idea was flawed even if proponents argued that the status quo was more ruinously flawed.

Secondly, the ghost of the provincial championships – under motion 19 to be exiled to the early months of year – hovered over the assembly and possessed the thoughts of its most fervent devotees, the Ulster counties.

Their case was opened in melodramatic style by Fermanagh’s Tiarnach Mahon, who told congress: “This motion has the potential to destroy the dreams, hopes and aspirations of Fermanagh people.”

It wasn’t long before someone mordantly observed “sotto voce” that it wasn’t the motion but the Ulster championship which did that.

Of course revolutionary reforms rarely find allies in the prevailing elites, and it was noticeable that for all the protestations of willingness to change, all four of this year’s All-Ireland semi-finalists, who between them have occupied 35 of the 44 semi-final places available over the past 11 years, were believed to have opposed.

Stampede

“Believed” because Dublin literally said nothing. One co-provincial delegate sympathised: “If Dublin announced what way they were voting, there would have been a stampede in the other direction. They’d be damned either way.”

With varying degrees of emollience, Tyrone, Mayo and Kerry spoke against the motion.

Next summer will see a championship based on the provinces with qualifiers and knockout All-Ireland quarter-finals, a structure last glimpsed in 2017 before the Super 8s were introduced.

Although they emphasised how difficult it would be to bring new proposals to next February’s annual congress, GAA president Larry McCarthy and DG Tom Ryan – both of whom backed the motion last week – are committed to change.

Ryan wearily summarised at the end of the post-congress media conference.

“We’re an hour out of the room so we also need to have a bit of a think about it. The only message I’m taking from today is that not enough of the delegates wanted it but plenty of people want things to move on so we keep going.”

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