The Gaelic Players’ Association has hit back at comments by Ulster GAA chief executive Brian McAvoy on Option B, one of the proposals going to next weekend’s special congress on the future of the football championship.
Ronan Sheehan, who represented the GPA on the Fixture Calendar Review Task Force, which devised the proposals, said that he had been "disappointed and actually insulted" by the comments. He was speaking in an online press briefing in support of Option B, which has the backing of the intercounty players' body as well as most managers.
“On a personal level I was very disappointed and actually insulted by Brian McAvoy’s comments and I think as an association, the GAA should have rebutted his very insulting commentary that he made about members of the task force.
"To turn round and say it was the worst motion that he ever saw on the clár – let's just think about who was on the fixtures committee. You had the current president Larry [McCarthy], the past president John Horan, John Prenty, who is the Connacht secretary; you had John Costello and everybody kind of recognised Dublin are probably the best-run county board in Ireland.
“You had Feargal McGill [the GAA director of games administration], the CPA, the GPA, people like Séamus Woods who has given his whole life in the promotion of the GAA and for Brian to come out and say that, was for me highly insulting.”
McAvoy said in an interview with the Irish Examiner, “To me, the second one [Option B] – and I mean this in all sincerity – is probably the worst motion I ever saw on a congress clár. It has absolutely no redeeming features to it.”
His reasoning was that disabling the provincial championships was “basically throwing away 130 years of history for something that when you actually drill down has so many deficiencies that it’s mind boggling”.
Not that the Ulster chief executive was uncritical of Option A, the creation of four eight-team groups based on the current provincial championships – the symmetry to be achieved by switching counties around from one province to another.
"I don't think there is any appetite for sending teams from Leinster into Connacht . . . It also smacks of Oliver Cromwell and 'to hell or to Connacht' and that's nothing against Connacht," said McAvoy in the same interview. The Cromwellian reference drew the wrath of Sheehan.
“I also take real umbrage to him referring to the work of that task force in the context as Oliver Cromwell, a man who kind of committed genocide on this island. To turn around and say that there was anything linking the GAA proposal to a man like Oliver Cromwell was just shocking.”
One of McAvoy’s objections to Option B was the decoupling of the provincial championships from the All-Ireland series. He pointed out Ulster’s experience in hurling, arguing that when the provincial championship was removed from the All-Ireland, it signalled the death of the competition, as Antrim was absorbed into Leinster at the same time that Galway migrated in 2009.
Sheehan, who is manager of the Down hurlers, took exception to the reference.
“A final point I would make on Brian, and I am annoyed about it, is that he referenced the Ulster hurling scenario and the Ulster hurling championship. This is a man who has presided over the fact that there is no Ulster hurling championship for minors, under-20s or for seniors.
“Ulster have abdicated their responsibility for hurling promotion to Leinster, and we are very thankful and I would like to go very publicly on record to thank Leinster for giving my own young hurlers at under-20 the opportunity to play in the Leinster championship because their own province doesn’t deem them worthy of having one for them.”