GAA Football

Farrell calls for radical revamp of football Championship

GPA chief Dessie Farrell has said anything less than a complete overhaul of the provincial football Championships would amount to "moving the deckchairs around"
Paul Keane

GAELIC PLAYERS ASSOCIATION chief Dessie Farrell believes the game of football is being slowly suffocated by the outdated provincial Championship structures.

Last weekend's painfully one-sided games in both Leinster and Munster have prompted a national debate about the long-term viability of the current provincial model.

Farrell said the clear message coming from inter-county players is the time for change is upon us and the GPA will shortly submit their own Championship proposals to Central Council. He said they still have to be signed off by their members, but noted pointedly that any change "which still retains the provincial structure is only moving the deckchairs around".

Crucially, Farrell said he sensed an openness to change at the most recent Central Council gathering, when he was encouraged by the soundings from top officials on the issue of Championship overhaul.

"Hurling is in a really strong place at the minute - football is lagging way behind," said Farrell.

"There are a combination of things at play, the tactical evolution of the game is problematic to some degree, but definitely the competition structures themselves are a huge restriction to where the game of football and the Championship could be at.

"It's long overdue that a serious debate takes place. I sat on Central Council last Saturday week. It came up for discussion and it was just an initial discussion, but it was encouraging the views of some of the members of Central Council in relation to the prospect of change."

Of the four provincial football championships, Ulster is the only truly competitive one with several potential winners each year. As a result, Ulster counties may not be open to ripping up the present provincial model.

"My personal view is that any changes that come about which still retains the provincial structure is only moving the deckchairs around," added Farrell.

"It's time to grab the nettle and make a serious change and we're going to canvas our players in relation to this. We'll be doing that within the next fortnight. There's definitely an appetite for change."

Asked if players such as those who suffered heavy provincial Championship defeats last weekend are growing disillusioned with the present model, Farrell said they are certainly keen for change.

"Well, there would be a sense amongst the hurling community that the hurling Championship is fine, but there's definitely a strong sense amongst the football county players that it needs to change," he said.

"What that change looks like does vary depending on what county you play for, your level of ambition and what you can realistically expect to achieve and accomplish. But, overwhelmingly, there's a sense of change."

Farrell also spoke strongly about the need to eliminate sledging and verbal abuse from the game. The issue was highlighted in recent weeks, most forcibly by Tyrone's Seán Cavanagh. Farrell suggested sledging appears to have replaced the punches and digs that used to be traded, but which have been eliminated from the modern game.

"There was always a bit of mouthing if you like, but not to the extent it is going on at the minute," he said.

"In certain situations, it seems to be quite deliberate and it doesn't necessarily seem to be top of the head stuff. Some players, it would appear, are actually thinking about this and what they are going to say and how they are going to say it. Having been involved in the game as a player and now coaching, I just detest the fact that some players would be subjected to this type of abuse."

The GPA have already communicated with their players on the issue and plan to develop a campaign to get rid of sledging.

Dessie Farrell was speaking at the launch of the Gaelic Players Association's link up with the Childhood Cancer Foundation.

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