Tier 2 football championship gets green light at special congress

Motion passed as over three-quarters of delegates vote in favour of proposal

A view of the GAA special congress at  Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

A view of the GAA special congress at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

Saturday’s GAA special congress in Cork has passed the proposal for a Tier 2 football championship for national league Division 3 and 4 counties. After a lively debate, the vote in favour easily surpassed the qualified majority of 60 per cent with 76 per cent of delegates supporting the concept, 112-38.

Arguments that the growing gap between the top half of counties in the country and the lower had created a demand for the tiered championship, which promoted by the GAA would be attractive to players, held sway, although there were a number of sceptics who felt that the new competition would fail just as previous iterations had.

Antrim chair Ciarán McCavana went as far as to suggest that the idea would create an elitism within the game, which would lead to the abandonment of amateur status for top counties.

Delegates on both sides of the argument spoke of the importance of the new competition getting adequate promotion and media coverage – with those against doubting that this would happen and citing the McDonagh Cup, hurling’s second-tier championship as evidence.

McCavana said at one stage that RTÉ gave “more coverage to Marty Morrissey’s clothes than to the McDonagh Cup”.

GAA president John Horan, who had strongly driven the idea of the Tier 2 championship, intervened at one point to say that RTÉ head of sport Declan McBennett had messaged him to say that he was “confident” that there would be coverage of the competition.

Before the substantive debate took place, there was a query from Cork chair Tracey Kennedy as to whether Central Council had taken into account the deliberations of the Fixtures Calendar Review task force.

The president replied that the matter had been considered but it was felt by Central Council that the debate should take place. The task force’s options all included Tier 2 championships and were special congress not to take a decision it would deny Division 3 and 4 teams a chance to confirm their interest in such a competition.

There was also a discussion as to whether the clarifying motions 2 and 3 should be taken before the main debate. These adjudicated what teams would be categorised as Division 3 – counties who started the season there or those who had been relegated into it at the end of the campaign.

Tipperary – who opposed the main motion – proposed the latter definition and this was overwhelmingly successful.

John Murphy (Sligo) proposed the motion, citing the “huge gap in standards” and saying that “Division 1 and 2 teams win 80 per cent of matches against Division 3 and 4 teams”. Tier 2 he said was “not perfect but it is start of a process and will evolve over time”.

Westmeath seconded the motion.

Former president Seán Kelly, who initiated the Tommy Murphy Cup, the GAA’s previous attempt at a tiered football championship, congratulated his successor on bringing the idea to congress. “It’s the same logic as the Tommy Murphy Cup and the gap has widened since. RTÉ will have to show these games – we’re not waiting for their benevolence. We should learn from the mistakes of the Tommy Murphy and it can evolve massively.”

Another former president, Nickey Brennan, supporting, said: “If we’re serious about it, the final should be the curtain raiser to the All-Ireland final.” This idea was contested by some other speakers but Horan was at pains to point out that replacing minor finals on All-Ireland day was not part of the proposal.

In his contribution Antrim’s McCavana listed the difficulties of finding a sponsor for counties consigned to Tier 2, and pointed out the large gap that existed between “the top four and the rest”.

He concluded with a nod to the afternoon’s other big deliberations:

“Lunatics in Westminster are debating Brexit but we seem to be talking about Sam-exit.”

Down’s Jack Devaney, also opposing, pointed out that similar competitions “have been tried before and failed” and that by contrast “our qualifier this year against Mayo in Newry was a great occasion and was worth a lot to the local economy”.

Martin Coleman (Wicklow) said that the ability of teams to compete in their provincial championships before entering Tier 2 “still kept alive our dream of winning our first Leinster title” and added that the county’s Gaelic Players Association “rep told us that our senior panel were in favour”.

The GPA’s delegate to Central Council, however, spoke of the organisation’s opposition to the competition because although the membership was in favour of the concept, the format proposed didn’t satisfy their requirements.

“There aren’t any more games for Division 3 and 4 teams. It’s just a two-game championship again.”

Opposing, Seán Campion (Carlow) said that young players “dream of playing at the highest level”. Carlow’s experience had been mostly in the qualifiers and the impact on their summer Cúl camps showed a big increase.

Armagh’s Jarlath Burns suggested that one way of incentivising players to embrace the new competition would be to provide a pathway back into the Sam Maguire, like the McDonagh Cup finalists in hurling – a proposal that Horan said wouldn’t be possible, pointing out that, unlike in the Tier 2 football proposal, McDonagh Cup counties aren’t allowed enter their provincial championships.

The playing rules debates were perfunctory. All three proposals were accepted, implementing the attacking mark, the introduction of a sin-bin for black card infractions and the 20-metre kick-out – all of which were trialled in the spring’s national league.

MOTIONS TO SPECIAL CONGRESS, SATURDAY

To introduce a Tier 2 football championship, contested between counties from Division 3 and 4 of the league once they have been eliminated from the provincial championship. Exceptions will be any counties that reach their provincial finals and from next year, the holders of the Tier 2 championship.

Passed 76-24 per cent

A clarifying motion to determine the composition of Division 3 by including those relegated from Division 2 at the end of the season rather than those in Division 3 from the start of the season.

Passed 88-12 per cent

PLAYING RULES CHANGES

Providing an attacking mark, allowing a free kick for a player who catches a kicked pass that travels at least 20 metres within the opposition 45.

Passed 69-31 per cent

Changes the black card punishment from immediate replacement for the offending player to a 10-minute sin bin with no substitution.

Passed 74-26 per cent

Changing the kick-out line from 13 metres to 20 metres.

Passed 83-17 per cent

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