New task force bids to expedite proposals for new football championship

Ten-man body will need to square the circle that caused problems for rejected Option B at special congress

Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee celebrates with the Sam Maguire cup following victory over Mayo in this year’s  All-Ireland final. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Tyrone’s Ronan McNamee celebrates with the Sam Maguire cup following victory over Mayo in this year’s All-Ireland final. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

The announcement of a task force to produce proposals for the future shape of the football championship might strike many as a bit leisurely given that it’s a vehicle to address concerns, which emerged at October’s special congress.

It is clear, however, that the task force has already done a certain amount of work and the press release announcing its establishment also disclosed that top officials had already “engaged in a review of the many suggestions and views on reform of the football championship that have been made to the GAA in recent years”.

Its appointment is in keeping with GAA president Larry McCarthy’s expressed wish after the special congress, when the possibility of a new committee to pursue reform was raised, to have “a fresh set of eyes on it”.

In the weeks ahead the task force will deliberate possible reforms, reflecting the views expressed by delegates to October’s special congress and also the overwhelming desire for reform.

The main debate was on Option B of the Fixtures Calendar Task Force recommendations, which proposed flipping the league and provincial championship seasons. It failed to secure the necessary 60 per cent but did attain a narrow majority.

One of the chief reservations about the idea was that it promoted counties from lower divisions into the knockout stages of the Sam Maguire whereas those finishing in sixth place in Division One would not progress.

One of Option B’s chief advocates was Cork chief executive Kevin O’Donovan, who in his annual report to Saturday’s county convention returns to the subject.

“Ultimately, an All-Ireland championship based on unbalanced provincial structures is no longer fit for purpose. Any proposal which may be forthcoming based on such model is unlikely to survive the scrutiny that the recent proposals were rightly subjected to.

“Thus, the spirit of Proposal B must be retained and developed further. It was encouraging to note the Uachtarán and Ard Stiúrthóir indicate after Special Congress that Proposal B would form the starting point for the next proposal to come on stream.

“Clearly, there were aspects of Proposal B that required simple improvement and correction but it appeared to be in the interests of some to block any such adaptations.

“Considering the universal cry for change as heard on the congress floor, one looks forward to the next proposal to emerge from this process.”

Campaign enthusiastically

Time will be short for the new task force if it is to produce proposals for discussion at February’s annual congress in Mayo. They will continue to meet in a combination of remote and in-person meetings with a view to bringing their conclusions to next month’s Central Council, which is scheduled for January 16th.

A major vulnerability for Option B was that the task force that originated it had effectively been wound up and the motion had no dedicated sponsors although the intercounty Gaelic Players Association and others did campaign enthusiastically for the proposal.

In the absence of those who had produced Option B as well as Option A – the rearrangement of the provincial championships into four eight-team conferences, which was dropped without going to a vote – there was an element of confusion in the lead-up to the special congress.

Both options had essentially been devised in a much different landscape. The original report of the FCTF had been published before the split season had been introduced – largely on foot of its success during the first year of the pandemic in 2020.

One of its primary objectives was the protection of the club season, which is now built into next year’s championship with the intercounty All-Irelands scheduled to be out of the way by the end of July.

The task force will need to square the circle that caused problems for Option B: the desire for more matches for all counties as well as the provision of potential access to the Sam Maguire – with the other counties set to debut in the new, Tier 2 Tailteann Cup, which is to have a clear Sunday set aside for its semi-finals in order to optimise profile.

At present speculation is that the All-Ireland stages of both grades will feature round-robin structures to provide more matches with the national league to remain in the early part of the year.

Football championship Task Force: Larry McCarthy (president), Ciarán McLoughlin (Tyrone and Ulster), Ger Ryan (Tipperary and Munster), Derek Kent (Wexford and Leinster), Vincent Neary (Mayo and Connacht), John Halbert (Cork and CCCC), Ronan Sheehan (Down and GPA), John Joe Carroll (Kerry and GAA representative of congress, formerly trustee), Tom Ryan (Director General), Feargal McGill (Leitrim, task force secretary)

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