Special Congress 2017: Paraic Duffy would be 'surprised' to see current Championship format return
GAA director general Paraic Duffy admits he would be “surprised” if the football and hurling Championships ever return to their current format in the wake of Saturday’s historic Special Congress.
A raft of proposals were given the green light at Croke Park, but by far the most significant was the vote to radically restructure the All-Ireland hurling Championships – coming just seven months after a football ‘super-eight’ was signed off.
Cork County Board chairman Frank Murphy warned that the “damage caused may never be repaired”, while Waterford’s Paddy Joe Ryan claimed it would be “the worst decision in the history of the GAA” - but their pleas fell largely on deaf ears.
When the votes were tallied up the motion, brought forward by the GAA’s Ard Chomairle, was passed after 62 per cent of delegates voted in favour, just two per cent above the threshold.
As a result, the Liam MacCarthy Cup will now be confined to 10 teams – five in Munster and five in Leinster, with both provinces played off as a round-robin group. Each county will play four games, two at home and two away.
The top two teams in each group will progress to the provincial final with the winner of that going straight into the All-Ireland semi-finals and the losers going into the quarter-finals.
The third-placed team in each province will play one of the top two teams from the newly-created tier two competition - which includes Antrim - in a preliminary quarter-final, with the two winners going forward to the quarter-finals.
No name has been assigned to this competition as yet, although the Joe McDonagh Cup has been mooted.
If the team that wins the tier two competition is from Leinster, they will be promoted straight to the provincial Championship the following season with the bottom team dropping down. If Kerry top the round-robin, they will have to play-off against the bottom team in Munster to earn promotion.
The changes have been introduced on a three-year experimental basis to run from 2018-2020, but Duffy feels that we have seen the last of the current Championship structure.
“Well I don’t think that would be better, but that could happen,” he said when asked if the format could be tinkered with down the line.
“I’d be surprised if it’s the status quo, I think it might be something different. For example, we might look at tiered Championships in football and stuff like that. I’d be surprised if we go back to the status quo, but it could happen.
“Clearly there’s a strong majority of over 60 per cent in favour of change in both football and hurling and that’s a good starting point.
“These are trials and nobody will feel the slightest bit put out if in three years’ time there’s a far better way of doing it. These are experiments, and if in three years’ time there’s a better way, we’ll be all for it.”
And with a promotion and relegation element added into the equation, Duffy is confident they will avoid any possible ‘dead rubber’ games.
He added: “We debated the round-robin before, there are potential flaws with round-robins but in hurling, where you have five teams in a group and three are fighting for the quarter-finals or better and two are trying to avoid relegation, there’ll be no dead rubbers there and every game will count.
“I don’t think that’ll be an issue to be honest.”
The mood for change has clearly been strong in the GAA so far this year, and president Aogan O Fearghail admitted he was delighted to see the motion get the green light.
“Very pleased, yes,” he said.
“There’s been a lot of discussion and talk over a long period of years but this has been an action Congress and decisions have been taken and I’m very happy that it is clear and decisive.
“We’ve taken a bold, brave decision in football and we’ve now taken a similar decision in hurling.”
Coming just four weeks after ending their 29-year wait for an All-Ireland title, it was a good day for Galway, as they will now be able to host home fixtures for the first time since entering the Leinster Championship.
The Tribesmen’s U21s have also been permitted entry into Leinster instead of joining the fray at the semi-final stage, while the county minors will enter the All-Ireland MFC at a round-robin stage alongside the beaten finalists from Munster and Leinster.
There was good news for Ulster hurling too, with some counties – it has yet to be decided which ones – to enter the Leinster U21 and minor Championships instead of being thrust straight into an All-Ireland semi-final.