Prospects of shortened GAA championship season increase

Motions on the topic at next month's GAA Annual Congress will be taken separately

The prospects of the inter-county season being condensed improved on Tuesday with the announcement that the raft of motions going to February's GAA Annual Congress will be taken separately.

In the original proposals, drawn up by director general Páraic Duffy and endorsed by the association’s management committee and central council, the suggested reform of the football championship to incorporate a round-robin at the quarter-final stages was linked to provisions for a shorter season, ending at the end of August and an insistence that replays in the vast majority of matches – up to finals – only become necessary after extra-time has been played.

At the media conference to launch his annual report, however, Duffy said that the three elements would now be put to separate votes.

He explained the rationale.

“Since we brought out this document here, both the uachtaráin (Aogán Ó Fearghail) and I have spoken to many people throughout the country and there have been different opinions and suggestions for minor changes and that so we’ll incorporate that into our thinking,” said Duffy.

“We’ve been told it wouldn’t be the right thing to put the motions as a package, it’s not fair to counties and we accept that. We want to be as democratic as we can about this but you’ll have the motions on Thursday week but the motions will be on that basis.”

It is likely that the decision has been taken partly in recognition of the fact that whereas there is growing optimism that curtailments on the inter-county season will be passed there isn’t the same clarity in relation to the proposed new format.

Earlier, the director general had vigorously defended the substance of the proposals in the context of criticism from the Club Players’ Association, which on Monday issued a statement declaring its opposition to the proposed reforms.  According to Duffy the proposal – which he emphasised weren’t his alone but had been endorsed by the management committee and central council –“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.”

Further consultation

He questioned the CPA statement that called for the motions to be shelved pending further consultation on the grounds that if they are accepted, it won’t be possible to effect any further change between now and 2019.

“They say that if these proposals are passed, there’ll be no change until 2019 at the earliest. By then it could be too late. This needs to be sorted now. If  you want to sort it now, why would you park it? The two things appear a little bit contradictory. Now means this year’s Congress.”

He also rejected the criticism that the blueprint would undermine hurling by overshadowing that game’s championship saying that the fixtures could be organised in whatever way central council thought best for the game and that the extra weeks for club activity would enable county hurling championships to be played in better weather earlier in the year.

Asked how he assessed the chances of the proposals succeeding, he 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.”

On the question of Galway's desire to be fully integrated into the underage Leinster hurling championships, Duffy promises action regardless of the success of a motion on the matter before Congress.

"This year's Congress will also consider a motion from Galway that seeks to include the county in the provincial hurling championships in all grades. I fully agree that the current situation is unfair to Galway and, even more so, to Ulster teams (usually Antrim) who suffer from going directly into All-Ireland championships at the quarter- or semi-final stage.

“It is an issue that must be addressed. It may be that Congress will pass the motion and meet Galway’s concerns, but, in the aftermath of Congress, management committee and central council must address the needs both of Ulster and, if necessary, Galway.”

Competitive advantage

He also defended the GAA facilities at the National Sports Campus, rejecting the charge that it was effectively a benefit for Dublin.

The reservations most often raised included the question of whether any county outside of Dublin would be in a position financially or practically to use the facility for anything but an occasional or once-off basis and that it would give Dublin a further competitive advantage by providing a modern training facility for Dublin GAA for the foreseeable future.

“Dublin has been very successful in recent years, as might be expected from a county with over 25 per cent of the country’s population. There is an increasing level of participation in Gaelic games in the city and county and a growth in the number of juvenile teams in virtually every club, factors that have combined to place a huge pressure on facilities in Dublin.

“If the facilities at Abbotstown served only to relieve that pressure and to provide excellent facilities for the playing of our games, it should be considered a very positive development. But the experience to date has been that the resource has been widely used by other counties in the province of Leinster, which is exactly as it should be, and that, as a training facility for Dublin county teams, use of the campus has been limited.”