GAA Football

Benny Tierney: Elephant is still in the room despite GAA's revamp plans

The date of the All-Ireland final would remain the same in the proposed revamp of the senior football Championship    
Picture by Hugh Russell

THIS week, I received a brochure in the post highlighting the GAA’s new proposal for a revamp of the football Championship. 

It’s safe to say most Gaels agree change is necessary and after looking over the new document I think it can be described as a modest reform - but one that might have an impact on the quality of our games.

The GAA followers are voting with their feet, with attendances down quite a bit so I suppose if you are of the ‘grab all’ mindset you may look on this venture as possibly a manoeuvre, but I will look at it purely from a footballing perspective.

The provincial Championships remain as usual, which will please most people, especially from Ulster as our Championship is the most competitive. After that we have four rounds of All-Ireland Qualifiers, which remain the same format.

The existing quarter-final stage of the Championship would be replaced by a group stage contested by the four provincial champions and the four round four Qualifier winners.

Two groups of four teams would see each team playing the other three teams once. After the group stage is completed, the top two teams in each group will progress to the All-Ireland semi-finals, which would be played over the course of one weekend.

Although the final of the hurling Championship is proposed to take place in August, the football decider would still be on the third Sunday of September, which really doesn’t shorten the calendar.

However, the idea is that the 24 counties who have exited the football Championship by mid-July will be free to play their club fixtures.
I have laid out some of my pros and cons for the proposals.

PROS

  • Eight more quality games between eight of the best teams in the country.
  • Playing All-Ireland semi-finals over the same weekend will be more exciting and removes a greater rest period before the final for one county.
  • Extra-time instead of replays.
  • No league semi-finals.
  • Dublin would have to travel away from Croke Park for a change.
  • Attendances would increase.
  • More commercial value with more big games on offer.
  • So-called weaker counties will gain home advantage in first three rounds of the Qualifiers.
  • Extra games may afford the association the opportunity to lower ticket prices and make these games more affordable for families in particular.

One of the advantages of the proposals is that Dublin would be forced to play away from Croke Park more often 

CONS

  • The strong get stronger and the weak stay weaker.
  • The likelihood of a Tipperary, who managed the feat this year, of reaching the semi-finals would be reduced.
  • The calendar has not been shortened at all.
  • Some will see it as money-making venture.
  • Would club players really benefit?

I suppose the fact I have a few more ‘pros’ than ‘cons’ would give you a good indication as to how I view these new proposals. I am definitely not against change and look positively at some aspects of the document, but I still do not see how the players’ year has been shortened or how the club player has been thought of.

In the document, it was stated that a two-tier Championship was frowned upon by most members but when you get to the quarter-finals league format you effectively have a two-tier Championship.

The county player from the eight qualifying teams will have more games to play than ever before which may please him, but that will mean even less playing time with his club and surely heightens the chances of player burnout.

It is slightly worrying as the gap between club and county footballer is widening with the county man’s club loyalty diminishing all the time, so much so that we now have the Club Players’ Association. It remains to be seen what impact it will have.

I have a very simple outlook on life and for the most straightforward solution is to do away with the pre-season competitions like the Dr McKenna Cup and start the League in early January. The Championship would then start in April and end in August, taking about three weeks out of the calendar and freeing county footballers to spend some much needed time with their clubs.

Anybody who has ever been part of our association knows change is a very slow process and I have a very positive outlook towards changing things for the better and in some ways that has happened in this new document. We are never going to keep everyone happy or fix all of the things that need fixing, but we are all trying. 

However, the fact the proposals would see the hurling season and the football season remain unchanged means that the biggest issue in our association - the football calendar -  remains the elephant in the room.

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