GAA Football

GAA still must work out shape of provincial and All-Ireland football championships

GPA CEO Tom Parsons (right) with GPA national executive committee member and Tyrone footballer Niall Morgan.
Kenny Archer at Croke Park

IS the problem squaring the circle or getting square pegs into round holes?

The former is impossible, the latter merely requires more work.

When it comes to altering the shape of the inter-county football championships format(s), the GAA and the GPA are both prepared to put in the required effort, and believe the general will is there to do that.

GAA President Larry McCarthy was buoyed by the overall support for change, commenting: "I think every one of the people who spoke against it prefaced their remarks by saying we want change, we just don't like this change.

"So even if they voted against it, and we got 50.6% in terms of people looking for change, that would appear to me to be a huge mandate to push on."

The Association's Director-General Tom Ryan was optimistic that a workable formula can be arrived at: "Another of the positives out of today would be that I think we know what the sticking points are around the edges.

"There's a core of an idea there, there's an acceptance that there is a momentum and a will towards changing things and we know what the tricky bits are around the edge of that and the provincial championships and where they sit into the scheme of things clearly is one. We have to acknowledge that, absolutely, yeah."

That's easier said than done, of course. GAA President Larry McCarthy, albeit rather reluctantly, accepted that any future proposal will have to have more input for the provincial championships:

"I don't know. Probably… yeah. If you think about it, the eight or nine people who spoke against it [Proposal B] were all essentially supporting their own provincial championship so that would seem to suggest that it has to have a central role somehow.

"Don't ask me what that role is but it would. I guess one of the suggestions that was floated early on was that there should be some link between the proposed championship back into the All-Ireland during the summer.

"I must say, I don't know how you would do that but that would seem to be the desire of people, yeah, it would, yeah."

GPA CEO Tom Parsons called on the GAA top brass to help convince the provinces:

"We definitely need to alleviate fears that our provincial competitions, which are important, that they aren't going to be left behind in the wake here because they come before a competition that is just more competitive, that just develops all teams, that's just for the interest of the Association in Gaelic football.

"That is going to be the responsibility of our leadership in the GAA, Tom Ryan and Larry McCarthy in particular, to alleviate those fears held by Ulster in particular, but some other provinces as well."

Previous President John Horan, who proposed the motion, concluded the debate with mixed metaphors - and a mixed message. Warning against "kicking the can down the road" rather than "grasping the nettle", he then also hinted heavily that Central Council could meet next month and delay any change until 2023.

Although it wasn't even technically defeated, a miss was still as good as a mile for Proposal B/ Motion 19 in terms of bringing change to the inter-county football championships.

Still, the Championship will be different again next year, with the second tier/ Tailteann Cup coming in and only two rounds of All-Ireland qualifiers.

That's not enough for the players, though, Parsons confirmed: "Absolutely everybody who spoke for or against, mentioned the word 'change' and there is an acceptance that the status quo is broken…

"There is no doubt about it: a league-based competition as your core competition, with everyone playing in May and June, has to be the way to go…. Is there a link we can make between the provinces and a League-based Championship? Is it to put points on the board? We can be creative and innovative, we have enough bright minds in the room."

Yet while McCarthy and Ryan suggested that bringing a re-vamped Proposal B to next February's Annual Congress may be too soon, Parsons insisted that's what players will demand:

"100 per cent. If it takes burning the midnight oil and getting in a room all day on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I think out of respect for the amount of effort the players put in in having these conversations with county executives and managers, and the amount of debate, don't tell me we can't come to next February with stronger proposals.

"We've got a proposal that got the majority today that sparked huge interest and conversation. It's the foundation to something. Not all the work is undone because it didn't pass today.

"Personally, I wouldn't accept it's not on the table for February. I expect when we consult with our players they won't accept that something is not on the table in February and ready to be implemented in 2023.

"We have an incredible fixtures taskforce, the likes of Kevin O'Donovan, Conor O'Donoghue, Ronan Sheehan, and John Horan. I hope we don't lose all that talent. I'd ask leadership to retain that talent because they have digested over 28 proposals and thought deeply about this."

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GAA Football