Central Council considers football championship reforms
Reaching broad consensus for a new football championship will be a mammoth task
Dublin players celebrate with Sam Maguire in September: counties were asked to submit ideas for the football championship. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
The most striking thing about the proposals for reform of the football championship to go before next month’s Central Council meeting is how hard it’s going to be to forge a consensus motion which can be sent forward to the 2016 congress.
Any such motions will have to bear in mind other initiatives such as the calendar year and recommendations on player welfare and fixtures due to be released next month.
In all there are 18 different blueprints, including the Gaelic Players’ Association plan with its Champions League format which was recently released, to improve the provincial and All-Ireland championships and they have been circulated to the counties for consideration.
There is consensus on the provincial championships with just one proposal envisaging their abolition, whereas only three of the 18 advocate holding on to the All-Ireland qualifiers.
Six of the proposals include the introduction of a round-robin format into the football championship and although there is strong support for the establishment of a graded competition along the lines of the old All-Ireland B competition or more recently, the Tommy Murphy Cup, with 15 proposals including it as part of their reform, 11 of those don’t provide for a pathway between the secondary competition and the elite championship.
The national league is advanced as the most popular determinant of a county’s status for the purposes of seeding and grading with the most common proposal being the separation of the top two divisions from the lower two.
None of the proposals includes its county of origin for fear that attitudes would be influenced by that provenance so it’s not clear which counties didn’t submit proposals.
When the GAA decided to exclude Division Four counties from the All-Ireland qualifiers in 2007 and 2008, the counties affected – despite the idea being accepted initially – rebelled and the measure was dropped. How easy it will be to persuade counties in Divisions Three and Four to agree to this loss of status is open to question.
Although the qualifiers are not popular, they are the current bridge between the provincial championships and the All-Ireland stages and in the absence of consensus forming around one of the various other ideas for constructing that bridge, the qualifier system might survive by default.
This debate is the latest step in a process, which developed early last summer amidst growing concerns that the football championship format needed urgent review in the aftermath of some heavily one-sided fixtures.
Counties were asked to submit ideas in relation to the football championship after concerns with the current format had been expressed at May’s Central Council meeting and it was decided, as announced by GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail in June to canvass views within the counties.
At the same time the GAA has been engaged in trying to streamline its season in order to give more time for club fixtures and a revised games calendar
Plans for a calendar-year season to operate in its major competitions have been deferred until 2017. The idea that the format, which was initially to be conducted on a two-year trial basis, might be introduced in time for 2016 was shelved in light of the broader review of the football championship.
Another factor in the debate on fixture schedules and competition formats is the issue of player welfare and burn-out.
In his annual report last February, the association’s director general Páraic Duffy said there had been a number of recommendations on these issues in recent years.
“We have now had five major reports that, from varying perspectives, have addressed many of the same issues concerning club fixtures, the needs of the club player, inter-county competition structures and player welfare,” he said.
Duffy undertook that his office would, “in conjunction with our Games Administration and Player Welfare Section, will produce an extensive paper later this year – based on the wide range of proposals already made – that will draw on all of these proposals and allow the association to decide how it will address these player welfare issues and the needs of the club player”.
That paper is believed to be almost ready for publication.