GPA come out fighting in support of Option B amid provincial push back

Ronan Sheehan says status quo is not working for anyone at the moment in football

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The Gaelic Players’ Association (GPA) has come out fighting in its support for Option B, which goes before Saturday week’s special congress to consider the future of the football championship.

Ronan Sheehan, the GPA representative on the task force that produced the proposals and also manager of the Down hurlers, said that whereas Option B, the league-based championship, “wasn’t perfect,” it was “a vastly improved model to what is available now and the status quo”.

In an online media briefing on Thursday, Sheehan took issue with the criticism that members of the Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force should not be taking advocacy positions on either of the two proposals before the congress.

“What I think everybody recognises is that the status quo is not working. It’s not working for players, it’s not working for counties, it’s not working for the GAA public and it’s not working in general for people because there just isn’t the appetite there for it.

“So I think there are a number of people on the task force feeling very strongly that we should go for proposal B and that we should have probably sold it a bit more than we have at the moment.

“So I understand why the likes of Larry [McCarthy, GAA president] or Tom (Ryan, GAA director-general) might be reluctant to be seen to be putting their stamp on something because they are trying to be “neutral” in inverted commas, but that doesn’t prohibit the rest of us who are on that task force from speaking out and saying that the work that we did and the hours that we pored over it, that we feel that it’s a is a worthwhile model. There is a lot in it to be recommended.”

He said that proof of the dysfunction was in the comparison with the hurling championship, which has adopted round-robin structures in its provincial competitions, and greatly boosted attendances.

“At this time, the Leinster and Munster hurling championships are the two cash cows for the GAA. Yet probably only 10 counties in Ireland would see hurling as being their primary game.

“So our football championship is not working for anybody and yet we have an opportunity to change it. Because we get cold feet or we’re afraid of trying something different or because of the vested interests of the provincial councils we’re going to be afraid of change and I think that’s wrong.”

Had they maybe underestimated the strength of feeling in the provinces when recommending the breaking of the link between the provincial championships and the All-Ireland? These misgivings have been particularly strong in Ulster, the best performing of the provincials.

“Are we going to allow one province to dictate against the good of the game? I am not even sure that the Ulster championship serves purpose for the counties in Ulster anymore either.

“I don’t think we underestimated it because we knew we would have very strong resistance but if the question is, ‘should we have tweaked our consultation approach based on that?’ Then I think that’s a fair enough challenge.”

The GPA has been very active in promoting Option B but also in calling on the GAA to debate the issues involved so that delegates to congress – who as was pointed out also represent the players in their county – could make informed decisions on the proposals.

Asked was the presence of two options confusing the situation when it came to leadership at national level, Sheehan said that support for Option A at this stage was minimal.

“I don’t think that there is anybody in this moment and time who would be backing Proposal A over Proposal B. I also think if we had met together as a fixtures committee and if we had debated the point, you could have seen Proposal A maybe come off the table because of the lack of support raised in the feedback.

“If you reflect on this in general, one of the things I would say is we should have consulted more widely and in more depth.

“The players are totally behind this – 80 per cent plus [of those polled]. The managers have come out very publicly in favour of it so the people who are required to facilitate the games are looking for change. The public are crying out for change.

“If the public weren’t crying out for change, why wouldn’t Gaelic football be generating twice as much money for the GAA in terms of gate receipts as hurling?”

“I say that as somebody who has spent all his life involved in GAA promotion, both hurling and football. We need this change if we’re going to help our game to thrive and get back to its rightful place.”

Football championship reform proposals

Option A and Option B will go to tomorrow week’s special congress, Saturday October 23rd. If neither secures the necessary 60 per cent support, the 2022 championship will default to the provincial-plus-qualifiers format with the likelihood that the All-Ireland quarter-final round-robin or Super 8s will not be retained and knock-out quarter-finals as in 2017 will be reinstated.

It is envisaged that the Tier 2 Tailteann Cup will replace the minor football championship on double bills with senior championship fixtures.

It is also likely that revised proposals for championship reform will go to annual congress in February 2022, for implementation if successful in 2023.

Option A

– League to remain in the spring. Provincial championships retained in four groups of eight teams. The bottom six teams in Leinster (based on that year’s league finish) to play off with two of the losers switching to Munster and the third to Connacht.

– The bottom two in Ulster’s to play off with loser going to Connacht – giving four ‘provinces’ of eight counties, each divided into two groups of four.

– Three matches, one home, one away and one neutral venue, with the top teams in each group playing provincial finals and the second and third teams across the eight groups, playing each other over two knock-out rounds.

– The four survivors play the counties that lost the provincial finals with the winners going up against the provincial champions in All-Ireland quarter-finals.

– The bottom team in each group proceeds to the Tailteann Cup, the eight competing to play off knock-out quarter-finals.

Option B

– Provincial championships to be played on a round-robin basis in February and March and have no link to the All-Ireland championship.

– The All-Ireland will be played on a league-based format with the national league moved to the summer. The four hierarchical divisions that would otherwise constitute the 2022 AFL will be played between April and June.

– Proceeding to the 10 knock-out All-Ireland places will be the top five counties in Division One, the top three in Division Two and the table toppers in Divisions Three and Four. The latter two counties will play preliminary quarter-finals against the second and third counties in Division Two.

– The remaining eight teams are drawn together in the All-Ireland quarter-finals on a seeded basis, ie first in Division One v one of the preliminary quarter-final winners, second placed against the other preliminary quarter-final winner et cetera.

– The second-placed team in Division Three gets a bye to the quarter-finals of the Tailteann Cup with the remaining 13 teams plus New York drawn together in preliminary quarter-finals. The seven winners plus the team with the bye play off a knock-out championship.

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