Páraic Duffy has defended the GAA against the charge that they did not give a fair hearing to the players’ proposals for football championship reform, as formulated by the Gaelic Players Association.
“We welcome their proposal,” he said. “They’re entitled to make a proposal, but I have to make the point as well, this is an organisation of 750,000 members. We have clubs; we have all kinds of units. The GPA is one of those units and we welcome the fact they made a proposal. But just because it came from the GPA doesn’t mean that we should have accepted it.
“It didn’t meet the criteria, and I’ve given the reasons why (below). If we can’t have a discussion with the GPA and disagree, there’s something wrong. We have a different view than they have. Not Aogán (Ó Fearghail, GAA president) and I – Central Council.”
The criteria referred to came from Central Council, in its consideration of 18 different proposals for a new football championship format – including the GPA’s: maintaining the provincial championships, protecting club fixtures and catering for a secondary championship.
Duffy said that the GPA proposal was treated with respect and the reasons why it wasn’t included on the shortlist spelled out to the players.
“. . . the first thing was it would double the number of championship games, almost. You’d go from 61 to 116 so clearly you cannot have a principle that says we want to protect the club game and then turn around and recommend a proposal that increases the number of championship games from 61 to 116, so that was the first problem. “The second problem was, under the system advocated by the GPA, you have the provincial championships, which would be over in May, and then you start the All-Ireland Championship with all 32 counties in it with eight groups of four. A Division One team in each group, Division Two, Division Three and Division Four, which meant, let’s face it, we’re going to have more one-sided games.
“The third one was that it would dilute the knockout aspect of the championship. These eight groups of round robin. The problem was, you’re going to play 48 round robin games, at the end of which only eight teams would be eliminated. You still have 24 teams left having played the 48 games. The history of the GAA with round robin has not been good. It doesn’t seem to excite our supporters or our fan base and I think it was a valid point for CCC to make that this wouldn’t work.”
Duffy also defended the one proposal that has gone to next month’s congress, to establish an All-Ireland B championship for Division Four counties – despite the GPA reporting that players in the target counties didn’t want to compete in such a competition. He pointed out that elsewhere in Gaelic games, there are graded championships – including hurling’s Christy Ring Cup – which recognise that some teams are weaker than others. The difference he said between the current proposal and the Tommy Murphy Cup, which was discontinued, is that under the Central Council motion the new competition would be a championship and guarantee a place in the following year’s qualifiers for its winners.
Among the other issues raised in his annual report was the controversial Dublin-Armagh football challenge, which led to Dublin’s Davey Byrne being hospitalised.
“The efforts of CCCC to investigate the matter followed an all too depressing pattern. Even though the name of the player alleged to have been responsible for Davy Byrne’s injury was in general circulation, no assistance was forthcoming from the counties in bringing the player to account.
“While a county may be pleased at avoiding the consequences of ill-disciplined behaviour, the reputation of the GAA suffers on such occasions. Moreover, a very negative message is sent to clubs and players at all levels about the need for discipline in the playing of our games.
“Is it really too much to expect that a player or official in these situations will stand up and say, ‘Sorry, I did it’ and I accept the consequences?” Duffy also defended the GAA’s disciplinary system, saying that it is scrupulously fair to players, allowing them “every opportunity to have cases dealt with fairly but added that he felt Dublin footballer Diarmuid Connolly sometimes “gets a tough press”.
In response to criticism of Connolly's last-minute escape from suspension before the Disputes Resolution Authority and in time for the All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo, the GAA's independent arbitration body, last September he had this to say.
“Three cases have gone all the way to the DRA. In only one of those cases over the past five years – that of Diarmuid Connolly in 2015 – has the penalty been overturned. From the outcry that greeted (that) decision . . . one might conclude that players are routinely going to the DRA to have penalties lifted.
“The facts tell us otherwise. Commentators were entitled to question the DRA decision in respect of Diarmuid Connolly . . .but it was nothing less than lazy headline-seeking commentary to use this to suggest that our disciplinary structures are not fit for purpose.”