GAA Football

To B or not to B: GAA prepares for seismic vote

The slings and arrows are being aimed in the direction of the provincial Championships as Proposal B goes before Special Congress today. If it gets the required 60 per cent of the vote it will revolutionise the inter-county calendar from 2022. Cahair O'Kane reports...

20 October 2021; Ard Stiúrthóir of the GAA Tom Ryan, right, and Uachtarán Chumann Lúthchleas Gael Larry McCarthy during the Special Congress Media Briefing at the GAA Museum at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

AS the delegates shuffle into Croke Park this morning for the biggest vote since Rule 42 was disbanded, the reality begins to dawn – what will next summer be like if there’s no Ulster Championship?

While 2005’s Annual Congress was the home of heated debate on a topic that brought political idealism, financial realities, pasts and futures all together, this one is about on-field interests.

The proposals for change have been in the ether since they were first revealed in The Irish News two years ago this month, on the same morning that Special Congress convened to vote on a tiered championship.

It’s easily forgotten that they approved what has since become the Tailteann Cup. Its name and its place remain barely known, given that the intermediate grade has not yet been convened because of Covid.

A virus that has unleashed chaos on the world has, in the GAA’s relatively small-time universe, altered mindsets.

The idea of a split season was resisted and ridiculed for years. Less than two years in, it would be hard to ever imagine going back to the madness of a nine-month inter-county season.

It feels as if there’s a growing tendency to see the solution rather than the problem.

But as the media has channeled its inner CNN all week, the projection maps have done little to move Ulster away from the stereotypes placed at its door.

‘Ulster says no’ does not look like a very progressive position to take.

Some view flaws in the make-up of the All-Ireland championship structure of Proposal B but in the northern end of the country, the primary objection is that the provincial championship will become a glorified McKenna Cup.

What has resulted is very much a case of saying to the rest of the country that our house is grand, it’s not our job to fix yours.

“In Ulster here, we don’t really know what’s going on in Munster or Leinster or Connacht and within reason, it’s not really our problem,” says Monaghan manager Seamus McEnaney, who is among those that wouldn’t like to see the weight of an Ulster medal reduced from 16-carat to chocolate wrapper.

“Certainly, we all agree, those provincial championships look like they’re in trouble. Ours is not.”

The march up Clones hill on a warm summer’s afternoon is one of the great attractions of Irish sport. Avoiding the puddles in sheets of spring rain to see how Ulster’s best are warming up for the actual championship doesn’t carry the same gravitas for those who cling to it so tightly.

Down’s delegates have twice mandated them to support the introduction of Proposal B. The other eight Ulster counties, either on the advice of clubs or through their own conscience, are all set to vote against change.

Yet the numbers as they stack up now show that the rest of the country has Ulster by the feet, ready to rip them out the door of their safehouse.

Outside the northern province, only Galway and Mayo have publically stated their opposition to change, though a few have yet to declare.

Kerry, Laois and Limerick have given their delegates the right to make their own minds up on the basis of the arguments from the floor.

Mostly, though, it will come down to Central Council and the overseas units. Their combined 54 votes (not including those of county delegates on Central Council) will be decisive in swinging the balance.

On paper there are three proposals on the table in terms of the championship’s structure, but really it’s just one.

Proposal A, which would rebalance the provinces into four pods of eight, is so far off radar it could register nul points.

Proposal C is there because there has to be some sort of a championship in 2022. The qualifier system it would return football to is broken also, but some will feel it better to go back to the devil you know.

Those in favour of Proposal B would acknowledge the flaws but feel that perfection is the enemy of good.

Ulster clearly still subscribes to the idea that not all change is progress but there’s a very real chance they could be forced into it against their will.

From abolishing The Ban fifty years ago to introducing the qualifiers in 2000, through opening Croke Park to foreign games and God Save The Queen five years later, there have been days in the GAA’s history when it has shed the conservative skin in which it is so comfortable.

Today could well be another one of those days.

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