GAA Football

GAA: Why the panic on tiers?

GAA president John Horan

WHY, you would have to wonder, the panic on the GAA’s behalf to rush through a tiered championship?

Some would argue it’s overdue and that 130 years of the same system hardly constitutes a rush job.

But earlier this year, the GAA commissioned a task force to look at the fixtures crisis that has engulfed the association in recent years.

The plan was that they’d draw up a discussion document that would be presented in November with a view to proposals being put to Congress in 2020.

One of their specific briefs was “to examine current national competition structures and their timing in the context of the time available for the inter-county game”.

The Irish News has learned that a series of plans have been drawn up that range from very minor tweaks to the current situation, through to radical overhauls that include splitting the season in two or rebalancing the provinces.

Their work seems almost certain to be made completely redundant this afternoon.

A Special Congress will take place in Páirc Úi Chaoimh and there, they will take a decision on whether to introduce a tiered championship.

It appears that the votes are tallying up nicely in favour of Central Council’s motion to do just that. If approved, the new system would come into effect immediately for the 2020 season.

The Irish Examiner has reported just under half (12) of the 25 counties they’d surveyed were in favour of it, with another five – including Cork and Kerry – set to make their decision on the day.

So even if the rest go against it, the weight of votes from the GAA’s management committee, its past presidents and the overseas units – who have traditionally tended to side with the establishment on big votes – is likely to swing it in favour of the introduction of tiers.

Perhaps the fact that the weight of the counties’ votes would be significantly increased at a full Congress is the panic.

The introduction of tiers will not break the stranglehold of the provincial system. It will remain intact, with all its imbalances.

No system is perfect but the one that exists would have given Cork a walk into tier 1 this year given that they only had to beat Limerick to reach the Munster final, while the likes of Down, Down, Laois, etc have to swim through shark-infested waters.

The point of the fixtures task force wasn’t that it had the autonomy to rip it up of their own accord, but they had the power to put forward a plan and try to convince the counties to agree.

The counties voting in a new system this afternoon that will take hold in 2020, and then voting in a different system next February at Annual Congress without having had a look at this one, seems something beyond unlikely.

And so the best chance the GAA has had of actual, meaningful reform of the fixtures calendar is destined to be laid to waste because they couldn’t hold their water for another month.

The tiers have completely overshadowed the other three motions which are up for debate, a process which will begin at 2pm this afternoon.

One in particular, the introduction of the advanced mark, has the potential to create a seismic change to the actual playing of Gaelic football.

When trialled in this year’s National League, it enjoyed a limited degree of success. But again, due to the ongoing nature of the games themselves, there has been almost no debate about it in the seven months since it was last seen in action.

The reality is that not enough is known about its impact on the game, but equally we can’t keep trialling it every spring and then dropping it for summer. It either has to get a chance or go away.

Kickouts being taken from the 20m line rather than the 13’ seems like the most boring, inoffensive change of all, and yet it could make a significant change to the game.

It, too, was trialled during this year’s League and led, anecdotally, to a big increase in teams pressing up on kickouts.

As for the proposal to introduce the sin bin, well it’s bound to get through simply because of the universal revulsion of the current black card.

Changing the punishment won’t fix it. While a man can get away with stopping a goal chance by pulling the forward back rather than down, players can be dismissed for a nothing tackles on a man in his own half and going away from goal.

The sin bin can’t be any worse, but perhaps in the proposed solution to the problem, we get the clearest view of how the GAA is continuing to operate.

They know what the problem is, but they’re going entirely the wrong way about fixing it.

Special Congress motions

Motion 1 – Tiered Championship

- All-Ireland SFC be split into Tier 1 and Tier 2 Championships.

- Current provincial championships remain in place.

- Teams that start the year in Divisions 1 and 2 of the National Football League, as well as any provincial finalists, play in Tier 1 of the All-Ireland series. Remaining counties will play in Tier 2 once they exit their province

- The Super 8s would be retained.

- The Tier 2 championship would be played on a knockout basis, with Round 1 and the quarter-finals organised on a geographical basis, with northern and southern sections.

Motion 2 – Determining who plays in Tier 2

- Will only be heard on the basis that motion 1 passes.

- If passed, it would see the championship status of counties from Divisions 2 and 3 of the National League determined by their finishing league positions, rather than their starting positions.

- Counties promoted from Division Three would be eligible for that summer’s Tier 1 championship.

- Counties relegation from Division Two would drop into Tier 2 championship unless they reach a provincial final.

Motion 3 - The advanced mark

- A player to be awarded a mark if he takes a clean catch inside the 45’ when the ball has travelled from outside the 45’ and for at least 20 metres in the air.

- Player must now raise his hand to indicate he is claiming the mark.

- All marks must be kicked from the hands.

- A player will have 15 seconds to kick from an attacking mark.

Motion 4 – The Sin Bin

- A black card would now mean the offender is ordered off for 10 minutes and not replaced

- The 10-minute period is not extended by any delays in play

- Number of subs permitted goes back down from six to five

- Two black cards, or a black card plus a yellow card, still add up to a red card

Motion 5 – Kickouts from the 20m line

- All kickouts would be taken from the 20m line, rather than the 13m line as currently

- No-one allowed inside the 20m line or the ‘D’ until the ball is kicked

- Ball must be kicked forward

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