Seán Moran: GAA trying to answer wrong question
Saturday’s meeting unlikely to bring reforms but the lack of of competitiveness remain
All-Ireland champions Dublin have won 10 of the last 11 Leinster football championships. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
By rights this should be a week of intrigue and speculation. For its first business of 2016 the GAA’s Central Council is going to determine no less weighty a question than the future of the All-Ireland football championship.
All of the ideas that received consideration have come from the counties as well as one from the Gaelic Players Association. They have not, as association president Aogán Ó Fearghail was quick to emphasise this week, emerged from one of those specially appointed work groups but from the deliberations of Central Council.
Yet despite this – or maybe because of it – it is unlikely any significant changes to the championship format will be endorsed by next month’s annual congress in Carlow.
The proposals have been whittled down to three for decision on Saturday: one which would see d the All-Ireland stages with the qualifiers not starting until after the provincial championships; the other is a round-robin, based on groups of three within the provinces although the proposed addition of New York to Leinster to bring the province up to 12 counties looks unlikely; the third proposes siphoning off Division Four counties into a secondary championship.
To recap, the idea of re-evaluating the football championship came on the initiative of the president, who felt that there was dissatisfaction with the current structures and wanted to hear what the counties had to say.
In this instance the GAA can’t be accused of rushing the issue, as proposals were sought and discussed over two Central Council meetings. The problem was though that discussion has been only marginally more helpful in forging a consensus than a tea-break on the Tower of Babel.
From the 18 proposals three have been chosen for debate on Saturday and the guiding principles are: the retention of the provincial championships, no further encroachment on the fixtures calendar and the introduction of a graded championship for – as the president delicately put it – “the lesser achieving counties”.
These principles emerged as the only consensus items from the proposals and consequent discussions.
The problem with the first two is that combined they effectively allow no room for manoeuvre: if the provincial championships continue as they have and no additional dates are found it will be very difficult to fit a radically different championship into the available space. The problem with the third principle is the abundance of anecdotal evidence that the “lesser achieving counties” have demonstrated that they’ve no great interest in contesting B championships.
Where would the axe fall? According to the president there hasn’t been a pile of takers for a 50-50 split, consigning Division Three counties to a secondary championship and the suggested categorisation would be Division Four teams.
Some years ago congress did vote for such an idea. The counties in the basement of the league would enter the provincial championship but be diverted into the Tommy Murphy Cup as soon as they lost unless they reached the provincial final. In other words they wouldn’t ‘transition’ into the qualifiers.
As can happen this got nodded through by congress and it took the reality of exclusion for the following two years – 2007 and ’08 – to prompt an uprising and the Murphy Cup was discontinued.
There is a sentiment that maybe a similar competition could learn from experience but the Murphy Cup had an allotted place in the schedules and a summer final in Croke Park and still struggled to command the attention of participating counties.
After all of the effort it’s likely that something will have to go forward to congress but it’s hard to see any of the three proposals under consideration picking up support from two-thirds of congress delegates.
Maybe it was a mistake to canvas views on something as broad as the championship. Nothing exercises GAA people as much as an invitation to redesign the All-Ireland but the abundance of ideas makes consensus almost impossible.
Furthermore perhaps the wrong question is being considered. Much of the angst surrounding the championship sprang from the early stages of last summer when some graphic punishment beatings were handed out in the provincial championships and qualifiers.
Yet the statistics tell us Dublin have won 10 of the last 11 Leinster football championships and Mayo six of the last seven in Connacht. Even Kerry, supposed to have the neighbourly brake applied every so often, are seven from 11 in Munster.
This lack of competitiveness will persist regardless of the championship format. Any more ideas?