GAA congress focuses on reform and All-Ireland dates
Motions to bring forward dates of finals and replays will need more support to be passed
Donegal’s All Star centrefielder Neil Gallagher has announced his retirement from inter-county football due to injury. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Most of the focus of this week’s GAA congress will fall on the proposals for football championship reform, devised by director-general Páraic Duffy and endorsed by Central Council, but the associated motions on the date of the All-Ireland finals and championship replays are arguably just as important.
Both ideas were floated last year in order to create more space in the games calendar for club fixtures but, although supported, neither attracted sufficient votes to be accepted.
There has been a feeling that, in the wake of the backlash after last year’s congress, these motions have a good chance of being passed regardless of whether the new football proposals succeed. But that will require some of the 39 per cent who opposed the motion on earlier All-Irelands and the 42 per cent who were against introducing extra time into almost all championship matches to change sides.
Signs are at the moment that neither Cork nor Kilkenny, for instance, will be performing a U-turn on the matter.
At the 2016 congress in Carlow both were in opposition to bringing the All-Ireland finals forward; the proposal then wasn’t as radical as this year’s, which calls for both finals to conclude by the end of August, whereas last time the motion asked for the football final to be brought to early September.
Among the speakers opposing the idea was Cork vice-chair Tracey Kennedy, who objected on the loss of promotional opportunities for the GAA as well as from the perspective of club activity, as the more condensed calendar would prevent matches being played in the gaps between inter-county fixtures.
Cork won’t be officially making a decision on the matter until Tuesday night’s county committee meeting, but indications are that they will continue to oppose the idea.
One source in the county voiced an additional concern about the prospect, saying that it creates uncertainty about the date for next year’s All-Ireland finals – the motion doesn’t specify what dates in August will be allocated to the football and hurling finals – which impacts on supporters overseas, who plan trips home a year or two in advance.
Kilkenny spoke out along similar lines 12 months ago. Their vice-chair Conor Denieffe said at the time that the sports media abhorred a vacuum and would fill the empty GAA pages with other sports.
It was a point addressed by Duffy in his revised proposal released last autumn.
“There is no direct link between the length of a championship and the amount of media coverage it receives. It can be argued that shortening the competition period through a more intense level of activity may even increase levels of media coverage.
“For example, Rugby’s Six Nations tournament takes place over seven weekends and generates significant media activity. Generally, it is the quality and importance of a competition that generate media coverage, not its length.”
Kilkenny will, however, continue to oppose the vacating of September but also on the grounds that their club schedules would suffer, like Cork’s, from squeezing the inter-county calendar and eliminating gaps in which local fixtures might be played. Kilkenny operate a county championship in which league position is significant.
“We would expect to play five rounds of the league during the summer and players are always released for that,” said county PRO Seamus Reade. “We make sure to fit in rounds after big inter-county matches like Leinster finals and All-Ireland semi-finals. If the provincial championships were to start earlier that would remove a couple of weekends already.”
Both Cork and Kilkenny are of the view that even though clearing September for club matches would create additional dates for clubs, it would also back-load the championship with fixtures.
According to Reade, a compressed summer might necessitate reverting to a straight knock-out format, which would leave some clubs without any more matches at an early stage of the summer.