Páraic Duffy hits out at criticism of championship reform

GAA director general has defended the proposed reforms to the football championship

GAA Director General Paraic Duffy has strongly defended the proposed reform to the All-Ireland football championship. Photo: Inpho

GAA Director General Paraic Duffy has strongly defended the proposed reform to the All-Ireland football championship. Photo: Inpho

 

GAA director general Páraic Duffy has strongly defended the proposed reform to the All-Ireland football championship, using his annual report to suggest “if we leave (it) unchanged, we are effectively burying our heads in the sand”.

Duffy also commented directly on Monday’s statement from the newly-established Club Players’ Association (CPA), who called on counties to reject the proposals at next month’s Congress, claiming they haven’t taken into account the full considerations of club players and are also detrimental to hurling.

“First of all these are not my proposals,” Duffy told a media conference in Croke Park this morning when presenting his annual report. “I brought a document to management committee, and that was approved by Central Council. If we park these now, it would mean the issues wouldn’t be addressed at all.

“And I for the life of me cannot see how these proposals are detrimental towards hurling. I would argue very strongly that it’s positive for hurling. We have to give them (the CPA) time to come up with their own proposals, and I look forward to that. And if there are better proposals out there we want to hear them.”

Asked how confident he was of the proposals being passed at Congress, Duffy said: “I would be hopeful, but I know the two-thirds is a high bar. If you asked me will it get over 50 per cent I’d confident, but beyond that I can only be hopeful.”

The proposals are seeking to replace the quarter-final stage of the football championship with a round-robin contested by the four provincial champions and the four Round 4 qualifier winners; it would also see the All-Ireland finals being brought forward, freeing up more time for club activity.

“The proposal that is going before this Congress recognises these constraints,” writes Duffy, “and presents a modest adjustment to the championship format that would produce a more exciting football championship within the current provincial championship structure, and in a way that can have a positive effect on the playing of county club championships.

“There are a couple of additional points that should be borne in mind in relation to this proposal. The argument that the proposed new format makes it more difficult for ‘weaker’ counties to reach the last eight is simply wrong. The pathway to that stage is unchanged, except in the wholly positive sense that these counties would be favoured by their being granted home-venue advantage in rounds one, two and three of the qualifiers.”

The remainder of Duffy’s report is largely an exercise in both defending or explaining issues or positions already advocated, including the black card in football and the extension of the Sky deal as part of the GAA’s new five-year media rights agreement.

“Writing about the black card has become tiresome at this stage, but, given the amount of media commentary it continues to generate, I feel bound to address the issue here. In my reports to Congress in each of the past two years I have emphasised the positive influence of the black card on how Gaelic football is played, while recognising that there was some inconsistency in the application of the rule by referees, and that work remains to be done in communicating the precise nature of black card offences to spectators and commentators.

“Once again, I accept that there is still work to be done in each of these areas, but instances of players being dragged to the ground are now rare, while the deliberate body-collide, an ugly, cynical and destructive foul that marred the game, has virtually been eradicated.

“There are statistics, too, that underline the positive impact of the black card on the game and that provide a comparison with the pre-black card era. Since its introduction in 2014, the total aggregate scores per game – compared with the previous four years – has risen by 10 per cent, the number of goals per game by 25 per cent and the number of points per game by 7.5 per cent. In the same positive vein, the average number of frees awarded per game has fallen by almost 13 per cent.”

On the ongoing Sky deal, as part of the media rights, he says: “The five-year duration of the deal (which is becoming the norm in sports-rights distribution globally and is two years longer than our previous deals) allows both the GAA and our broadcast partners to make longer-term investments. From a financial perspective, the new deal secures what we believe to be a fairer estimation of the value of our rights and will boost the Association’s investment in games and infrastructural development.”

In another matter, Duffy also suggests the GAA has no appetite to engage with a Television Match Official (TMO), similar to that used in rugby: “If both teams were to be allowed to challenge even two decisions per game, four additional and fairly lengthy stoppages would occur in a match. And that doesn’t take account of the occasions when a referee will decide to take the safe option and ask for a video review.

“This would be a natural reaction for a referee who knows that, if he makes a major decision without using an available ‘second opinion’, he will be criticised afterwards. Professional sports such as rugby, basketball, baseball and American football have all adopted the video-review model, yet it is hugely frustrating for the spectator or viewer to wait through the time taken to reach a decision.

“It should also be noted that the use of video review in professional sport has been expanded far beyond its original remit. And we can be sure that this would happen in our games, too, if we were to go down the road of reviewing difficult decisions in games.”

Duffy also suggests the IRFU’s bid for the 2023 World Cup, which will be decided later this year, could afford the GAA the chance to carry out some long-term improvements to the stadiums that would be used as part of any successful bid.

“In November the IRFU presented a list of potential venues to be used in the event of a successful bid to stage the Rugby World Cup in 2023. Eight of the venues listed are GAA stadiums: Croke Park; Casement Park, Belfast; PáircUíChaoimh, Cork; Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney; Nowlan Park, Kilkenny; McHale Park, Castlebar; Pearse Stadium, Galway and Celtic Park, Derry.

“If Ireland is successful, the logical step for the GAA would be to enter discussions on how any temporary facilities could be made permanent and on the costing and funding of such an arrangement. The staging of the World Cup would provide a huge boost for the Irish economy; with good long-term planning it can also leave a very significant and positive legacy for the GAA.”

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