Seán Moran: Pinch points could put the squeeze on Option B getting green light

Most radical shift in 135 years of intercounty competition on the agenda this weekend

Saturday’s special congress could see the most radical shift in 135 years of intercounty competition be brought in. Photograph: Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho

Saturday’s special congress could see the most radical shift in 135 years of intercounty competition be brought in. Photograph: Brian Reilly-Troy/Inpho

 

All of the talk about the momentousness of Saturday’s special congress overlooks one obvious consideration. Unless Option B is accepted, the whole exercise will be at most, a staging post. Even if it the motion is successful, there will be some customisation required, which will await next February’s annual congress.

That’s not to downplay the significance of what’s at stake – the discarding of the provincial championship format would constitute the most radical shift in 135 years of intercounty competition.

You wouldn’t necessarily have picked up on that from the dilatory nature of the debate so far. Why has this happened?

Firstly the Fixtures Calendar Task Force (FCTF), which produced the options, hasn’t really been active in the past two years since the substance of its proposals were published. They did issue an updated report to reflect the new enthusiasm for the split season at the beginning of this year but the proposals were meant to go before last February’s congress.

The pandemic ensured that this would have to held remotely. As a result the task force proposals were delayed until the autumn so that an in-person special congress might consider such an important matter – a justifiable decision given the difficulties of managing lengthy debates and decision making online.

It escaped the attention of many that in the past two weeks of deteriorating public health data, confirmation that the special congress would actually be going ahead was not guaranteed. That uncertainty cleared on Tuesday afternoon and there is accordingly, a belated media briefing on Wednesday.

There are no rosettes on offer for anyone predicting that the weekend is unlikely to produce a clear endorsement of Option B whereas Option A may – as suggested by former president John Horan on Monday – be withdrawn.

So here we are, nearly two years down the line from November 2019 when the now familiar Options A and B were first unveiled.

There has been a division of opinion within the task force as to how it should conduct itself in the meantime.

Those most in favour of Option B and its league-based championship have been campaigning away to the disapproval of others, who believe that the function of the FCTF was to devise the options and leave it to the democratic process to determine their fate.

The most evident issues with this have been the effective retirement of the task force, which hasn’t been in a position to drive a sustained information and briefing process and the existence of two options, which would have made it impossible anyway for an effective consensus campaign.

Darren Hughes and Monaghan have been outstanding in punching above their weight. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Darren Hughes and Monaghan have been outstanding in punching above their weight. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

As well as all of these impracticalities, even some members of the task force are conscious that these proposals come from a different world, a not-melodramatic assessment of November 2019 before a) the pandemic and b) the in some ways connected rise to favour of the split season.

Then there are administrators who believe that next year’s plan to initiate the split season and conclude the All-Irelands by the end of July – only three finals have previously been played in the month and none for more than 100 years – is enough in the way of historic challenge for one year.

This was reflected in the comments by John Horan at Monday night’s remote briefing for GAA officials. An on-the-record supporter of Option B, the former president also suggested that it be trialled in 2023 and ’24, leaving next summer to proceed according to the 2017 structure of provincial championship, qualifiers and knock-out All-Ireland quarter-finals.

This chimes with the view that the GAA has been through a lot in the past two years and that major reforms should be at a more advanced stage than either of the options currently are before being scheduled for implementation.

On the substantive issues there are two main crossroads for the future. First is the question of access versus meritocracy: does every team have a right to compete in the championship and if so, how does the championship structure reduce the incidence of punishment beatings?

Option B advocates say that the league system facilitates that by giving counties in all four divisions a shot at the All-Ireland but the progression of those in Division Three and Four ahead of the team that finishes sixth in Division One isn’t going down well with everyone.

Monaghan’s Darren Hughes dissented, not surprisingly given that for his team, finishing sixth in the top flight is a very respectable status – as well as a recurrent one. They consequently would feel pretty miffed at having to stand down in the championship in deference to counties from lower divisions.

Monaghan have been outstanding in punching above their weight – again their recent summer ended in a one-point defeat by the eventual All-Ireland champions – and the fate of sixth-placed teams would cause them and others to question what was the purpose of bettering themselves in the league?

The second crossroads is between national league and provincial championship. Option B takes the not unreasonable view that the league is the GAA’s best competition in overall terms – competiveness and quality – and that moving it to the optimum time of the year makes sense.

It may not be, however, what everyone wants. In the spring it combines good matches and the opportunity to trial players whereas in the summer it places greater pressure on counties who don’t have deep panels but would have to play seven matches in nine weeks, mending and making do to cope with any injuries they acquire.

The provinces are also hard-wired into GAA administration in many areas, from delivering and supervising grants to providing coaching education. They’re not crazy about the idea of losing their main revenue source and blandishments that there will be a cheque in the post from Croke Park doesn’t altogether reassure them.

In other words there’s a lot to talk about on Saturday in relation to these two pinch points. It will represent a good day’s work if that talk provides the basis for a reform model, which achieves some sort of consensus for trialling in 2023 and ’24.

smoran@irishtimes.com

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.