Enda McGinley: Change in the GAA has to start somewhere

A general view of GAA Special Congress at Croke Park in Dublin last week Picture by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

PARAIC Duffy and his team must be thoroughly bemused with developments since the landslide vote which gave his proposals to restructure the Championship the green light.

Forget ‘Who would be a referee?’ It’s more like ‘Who would be a GAA administrator?’

Like referees, GAA administrators are always an easy target for those with woes, imagined or not, within our games and the vilified ‘suits’ were the focus of many an angry tweet this week.

With murmurs of player strikes, talk of slaps in the face and ‘RIP club football’ hashtags, it’s apparent there is strong feeling out there, but I am not sure it is justified.

The GAA world has been swirling for a number of years towards an apparent storm. Problems have been identified regarding the All-Ireland Qualifier system, the imbalance of provincial competitions, club fixtures and the ever-growing disparity between the top teams and the rest.

More and more solutions were put forward with everyone able to pick holes in everyone else’s. Paraic Duffy, as director general, produced a wide-ranging paper with many suggestions, but it too bit the dust.

He then brought proposals last year to Congress, but they got voted out.

Meantime, the evidence and recognition that things were getting badly out of kilter was piling up.

So then came Paraic Duffy’s revised proposals, the new ‘Super-8’ proposals as they have been dubbed.

This time they were pitched, not as a cure-all or a revolution (he had tried this before), but as a ‘do something’ approach.

He knew he had to try to balance his proposals by what would get through Congress.

Congress with its myriad of voters from county delegates to provincial councils to international or third level education votes is a political game, but a democracy nonetheless.

He got the proposals out early, almost seven months early. Like a politician, he went knocking on doors, to provincial councils, to county boards, selling those proposals.

The GPA, at this stage, were seemingly not doing much. In fact, they inexplicably left it until six days before Congress to give their clear opinion, by which time most of those attending would have already had their respective mandates decided.

The Club Players Association, meanwhile, didn’t even exist. For these two to cry foul now is like the pupil who expected the last-minute cramming to pull off the A* grade.

Like referees, the proposals have managed to get people angry, but for completely different and often contradictory reasons.

Moving the All-Ireland final from September to August was, for me, a long-desired move, but one I thought would have been too big for the traditionalists to take on.

Big critics of this are those that feel the GAA will lose out on their prime-time September slot when other sports are presumed not as active and thus there will follow a loss of publicity and revenue. Some say September has always been about the All-Ireland finals so tradition dictates it should stay that way.

I have even heard some pundits criticise it from the fact that some people overseas arrange their annual holidays to come home for the finals and now they would have to rearrange their schedule. Really, does that man Paraic Duffy has no decency at all, messing with people’s scheduled holidays....?

The third Sunday in September is the Holy Grail. I’ve been lucky enough to be there three times, but tradition, prime time coverage, revenue or even holidays have to take a complete back seat to what for me is the biggest double-edged bonus of the whole thing.

Condensing a bloated county calendar is a no-brainer. Playing once every three or four weeks was a ludicrous waste of time and I hope the provincial councils take note.

The second aspect – and this sold it for me – is you create a golden period in the GAA calendar for club football to take centre stage. Combining these changes with the planned moves of the

All-Ireland club finals to the same calendar year means from mid-August (remember, only the two All-Ireland finalists would have to hold back at this stage) right until December, club games will take centre stage.

The glory month of our sport is September. How apt that this month can now belong to county championships and finals up and down the country.

The Super-8 element was the headline grabber. The round-robin sections at the quarter-final stage are criticised as adding more games, thus taking county men away from clubs.

They are also used to charge the GAA ‘suits’ with being purely interested in revenue, obviously by those that forget that the same ‘suits’ are being charged with losing too much revenue by moving the All-Ireland finals. The charge of extra games is a misrepresentation.

The games are to be played on a weekly basis, thus played off over three weeks.

This, and the fact the All-Ireland semi-finals are to be played on the same weekend, mean that there is no material difference at all in the time players would be away from their clubs.

In addition, the inclusion of the use of extra-time to reduce replays should help prevent some lost club games and, whisper it, potentially reduce revenue. But why let the facts get in the way of the usual ‘Grab All Association’ jibes?

The biggest issue for me is that several key areas have remained untouched.

The lame duck early rounds of the Qualifiers must go and the competition structure for the so-called weaker counties must change to give them a chance of progression and also a chance to share the big stage.

County boards need to sit down with their clubs to ensure regular structured league games are possible.

There are issues within hurling as well which will deserve attention.

Was there ever going to be a cure-all? Going on the contradictory arguments around the current changes, I don’t think so.

We couldn’t afford to keep waiting forever for the magic potion.

Paraic Duffy says that the new format is a trial period and that the changes should be seen as just the start of a process. That has to be true and, with engagement of the GPA and the CPA, I think we could be at the start of a major positive change in our games.

At this stage, I imagine, he’s just glad that something has been done.

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