GAA Football

GAA chief McAvoy won't support standalone Ulster Championship

Cavan players celebrate their thrilling victory in this year's Ulster Championship. Picture: Seamus Loughran.

SEPARATING it from the All-Ireland series would devalue the Ulster Football Championship and strip away its unique passion and excitement, says Ulster secretary Brian McAvoy.

In his annual report, Down native McAvoy addressed speculation that the race for the Anglo-Celt Cup remains fenced off any change – in numbers or in structure – that could detract from its importance in the Championship.

McAvoy referred to the work of the GAA's Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force which has re-visited options in relation to a restructuring of the Championship. The separation of the provincial championships from the All-Ireland series remains on the table although an Ulster Championship to consist of one round robin group of five and another of four has replaced the initial proposal of two groups of four, which would have meant Ulster county being designated to play in the Connacht Championship on an annual basis.

McAvoy said he had a “strong desire to ensure that all nine Ulster counties get to compete in their own provincial championship” and added that the amendment to the initial option was “a welcome development”. But he underlined his opposition “to the de-coupling of the provincial championships from the All-Ireland series”.

“Doing this would devalue the provincial championships and counties would undoubtedly use them as preparation for the forthcoming League/Championship,” said McAvoy.

“As evidence you don't have to look any further than the now defunct Ulster Senior Hurling Championship. During the 1990s and 2000s it was a competitive competition with Antrim,

Down and Derry all enjoying success.

“However, when it became de-coupled from the Liam McCarthy Cup series it effectively lost its prestige and was no longer treated with the same relevance by players and supporters alike.

“I fear the same would happen the Ulster Senior Football Championship if this proposal was to be adopted.”

McAvoy stressed that he wouldn't support any proposal which didn't give all nine Ulster counties the opportunity to compete for the Anglo-Celt Cup but he was encouraged that, unlike the November 2019 proposal, a nine-county option is catered for in the new updated Task Force Report.

One option put forward is for the two lowest placed teams in the Allianz National Football League to play off with the winner going on to take part in an eight-team Ulster Championship and the loser playing in an eight-team Connacht Championship along with a team from Leinster.

“The fact that a similar process would happen in Leinster means that every county gets the opportunity to play in and indeed win their own provincial championship,” McAvoy explained.

“Given the importance of the provincial structures this is an important fundamental.

“There are many positives to this option. One is that every county will be guaranteed at least one ‘home' Championship game each year and another is that each county is also guaranteed a minimum of four Championship games.

“This can only but improve standards and is preferable to the current ‘super-eight' fixtures where only the stronger counties get additional games. I strongly favour this option. The option also remains for one team from Ulster (and three from Leinster) to play in a different provincial championship but without the opportunity to play a preliminary fixture to effect this opportunity.

“Under the revised proposal this would mean that the lowest place county in the Allianz league would automatically play in the Connacht championship – this is much less preferable to my favoured option.”

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