GAA Football

New Proposal is not the B all and end all for the GAA

The GAA will hold a Special Congress on Saturday. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Andy Watters

A CHANGE is as good as a rest, someone told me a few years ago when I was mulling over whether to apply for a new job.

I’d been in my current job for a while and thought I should give something else a try and so I applied. Lo-and-behold I got the job and made the switch even though the money or the prospects weren’t much better than what I was already on.

From the first morning I arrived in the new job I began to realise I had made a blunder and after a couple of days I went, cap in hand, and asked my old boss for my job back. Luckily for me he took me back on and so I made a prodigal son-like return.

The point is that, yes, you might want a change and, yes, you might need one but you’ve got to be moving to something better, something that improves your circumstances and your situation.

Obviously that little personal anecdote pales into insignificance when you set it beside what the delegates at the GAA’s Special Congress will debate tomorrow but the same standards apply. To usher in a radical change, delegates have to be certain that what they bring in will work better than what we already have.

Even though Dublin’s long rein has ended and Tyrone came from left-field to win the Sam Maguire, there is a clamour for change in the GAA and it is needed, we can all see that. We want a Championship that is competitive and in which players can go shoulder-to-shoulder against teams of a similar standard because we’re tired of the foregone conclusions that are served up all too often on TV these days.

The three proposals up for ratification tomorrow offer a variety of ways to alter our current system and the most radical of them is Proposal B. This proposal would see the severing of the link between the provincial championships (which would be played as standalone pre-season competitions in the spring) and the All-Ireland series.

The National League would become a qualifying competition for the All-Ireland quarter-finals. The top five in Division One would take five of the eight places, the sixth would go to the Division Two winners and the champions of Division Three and Division Four would play the Division Two runners-up and third-placed team for the other two spots.

If Proposal B does go through the good news is that, if the Ulster counties continue their form of the 10 years between 2011 and 2020, all nine of them will feature in the new-look All-Ireland quarter-finals (or at least the preliminary round) at some stage over the next decade.

If the form lines continue then Donegal and Tyrone (seven each) will lead the way which is no surprise while Monaghan would have made the cut six times including one appearance as Division Three champions.

Then you have Derry (four) and Cavan, Down and Armagh (three each) followed by Antrim whose solitary appearance would have been by virtue of their Division Four title in 2016.

So, if those form lines continue then all the Ulster counties will have their day in the sun, some occasionally and others regularly.

But what are they giving up for that? In the current system, seven of those nine counties made it to at least one Ulster final over that 10-year period including Down who made it to two provincial deciders and the All-Ireland final in 2010.

Of the two who haven’t made Ulster finals, Armagh were All-Ireland quarter-finalists twice between 2011 and 2020 and, going into their second season in Division One, a Championship breakthrough is looking increasingly imminent for them.

Antrim is the other county - their last Ulster final appearance was back in 2009.

What will the new system do for the Saffrons? You’d be entitled to ask.

Supporters of Proposal B would say that it gives the county seven ‘Championship’ games (League games but with Championship intensity apparently) in the summer against teams of a similar standard which would ‘bring them on’ and allow players to develop.

But would it? Would Antrim really be better swapping all the razzmatazz, tradition and profile of an Ulster final at Clones for an appearance in the All-Ireland preliminary round?

And would that address the factors that are really holding the county back like not having modern player development infrastructures in place, like not having the facilities that other counties take for granted, like not having Casement Park?

It would not and it won’t solve the issues other counties have.

Change has to be for the right reasons and the capable people behind Proposal B have the good of the game foremost in their minds. I’ve tried to convince myself that their plan will work but change has to deliver better than what we’ve already got and there are some glaring deficiencies in the new proposal.

Severing the link between the provincial championships and the All-Ireland series is a seismic shift that doesn’t need to be made. No matter how much marketing and advertising provincial councils do, the big show will be in the summer and the Ulster Championship will be, literally, kicked out into the cold of the spring. Who cares if you win the Anglo-Celt Cup when finishing third in Division Two is more important?

But the biggest flaw in the proposal is that the bottom three in the first division and the bottom five in Division Two will be put out to pasture after the league stage. Apart from the winners, the Division Three and Four counties will be invited into the Tailteann Cup but the alsorans in the top two divisions will be sent on their way – presumably to Boston or New York.

This isn’t something that we can bring in and just ‘give it a go’ - Proposal B is not just for Christmas. If it’s voted through we have to live with a flawed model for three years before we inevitably do away with it.

Yes, change is required but this is not the way.


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