GAA president Larry McCarthy produced a showman’s sensibility to confirm acceptance of the new football championship structure at Saturday’s congress in Bekan.
“Congratulations, you have a new football championship,” he announced.
The cynical present might have been forgiven for responding: “another one?”
There have been five changes to the football championship in the past six years. This includes the exceptional response to Covid in 2020 and last season, but also the introduction of the Super 8s (2017), the Tailteann Cup (2019), the abandonment of the Super 8s (2021) and the weekend’s (2022).
That’s a lot of chopping and changing and as the latest is for a three-year trial, there could be more on the horizon.
It’s ironic to note that the one major, unqualified success of recent championship changes came in hurling, when an old 2012 report was dusted down in response to fears that football’s Super 8s would consume disproportionate attention over the summer.
As it turned out the round-robin provincial structure was found to be an ideal fit for the 10 counties involved. It was sorely missed during the pandemic, whereas the Super 8s were quietly discontinued without completing their intended three-year trial.
An amount of time and labour went into the new championship format. Firstly there was the Fixture Calendar Review task force’s work in producing two options for last October’s special congress.
Option A perished after being formally moved and whereas Option B was debated and narrowly approved, its support wasn’t enough to proceed. There was a mood that things had to change but not like this.
What was eventually accepted at the weekend was inevitably a compromise and proposer Derek Kent read out the list of parameters that had emerged from special congress: preserve provincial championships, provide more matches, introduce a round-robin – but guard against dead rubbers – and make sure everyone has a chance to contest the Sam Maguire and so on.
The challenge is to rethink the GAA's regional governance, because as long as there are provincial councils, there'll be provincial championships
It would require nimble footwork even to come up with a camel given the task had the air of expecting a flogged, dead horse to be redesigned by committee. In the circumstances it was a fairly ingenious piece of work.
Everyone will wish it well. It’s too disruptive to keep changing championship format. Counties need the stability of getting used to the patterns of a championship season without its being radically changed so often.
For those disappointed by the compromise that allowed provincial championships off the hook, the challenge is to rethink the GAA’s regional governance, because as long as there are provincial councils, there’ll be provincial championships.
Later in the day, the president made a telling point about congress and its function. Asked whether it was a concern that motions like number two on Saturday (to introduce an under-19 intercounty championship) came to congress having absorbed much energy from voluntary committees assembling data-based evidence – only to be knocked back.
This was based on the experiences of the Talent Academy and Player Development committee, whose wide ranging report laid the basis for a modernised player pathway in Gaelic games.
McCarthy agreed but accepted a share of the responsibility. “It is now up to us to convince the membership that this is what we should be doing. Clearly we didn’t do it today. We have to do it going forward.”
Whether meaningful reform should be dependent on a verdict passed by lay people on often complicated proposals from well-disposed experts is open to question, but that’s the only way of getting things done in the GAA.
A final observation: for the first time in a long time – maybe ever – congress was bottled into one day. This was because when it was being planned, officials were unsure of what the Covid situation would be and a single day would be easier to organise if restrictions were still in force.
It would equally have been a good time to tinker with the format a little. Tom Ryan opened proceedings with his annual director-general's report. Normally this would happen on a Friday evening with the opportunity – rarely taken – to discuss matters arising.
The report is circulated to delegates and presented to media a few weeks in advance. There is no need to re-present even portions of it. Throw it to the floor and see if anyone wants to raise any issues, as opposed to thanking the DG for the excellence of his review.
Anyone with any queries can raise them from the floor but the onus would be on delegates to read the motions in advance and prepare any misgivings they have
Another major item is the raft of motions from the Rules Advisory Committee (RAC). These proposals are largely intended to tighten up on rules and procedures in relation to matters identified by the RAC during any given year. They are purely housekeeping.
Liam Keane, chair of the RAC, is very thorough and lucid when it comes to explaining the detail of these changes but it's likely that even he would welcome not having to go through the (21) motions with little by way of debate or clarification sought.
Such items should be accepted in principle by Central Council and proposed en bloc to congress. Anyone with any queries can raise them from the floor but the onus would be on delegates to read the motions in advance and prepare any misgivings they have.
The above tweaks would save a reasonable amount of time and maybe limit the space available for what was being identified towards the close of play on Saturday as ‘motions late in the day when some delegates have gone’.
The exemplar of this genre is the 2010 Cavan motion to drill holes in trophies to prevent them being filled with alcohol. As a result there is a tendency to assume diminished responsibility on the part of delegates as soon as the last few motions on the clár come up for discussion.
A little more time would help.