Kicking Out: Proposal B only needed tweaking - so here it is
SO change didn’t occur on Saturday. Great. It was the wrong change to make.
But for the first time, there was consensus behind finally fixing the mess that is the football championship.
Even the Ulster counties that fixed their objection behind the red line of devaluing the provincial championships had to offer the conciliatory gesture of accepting there was a need for change.
They just couldn’t abide by Proposal B. You couldn’t blame them. The flaws were enormous.
That only 30 per cent of footballers bothered to respond to the GPA’s survey undermined their push. The players’ representative body didn’t have the strength of mandate to back Proposal B that they presented to the world.
But that’s grand. The players will maybe see now how effective their voices can be in this debate and when it comes back around in the very near future, they might be more engaged.
Yet if all players were surveyed, you suspect the result might not be all that different from the 80 per cent in favour of change that was spun. What we have is an incredibly bad system.
So I’ve fixed up Proposal B.
Trying to solve the problems feels like walking in Jean-Claude Juncker’s shoes.
The Ulster counties want their own sausages. They’re the best sausages in the land and they’re protective of them. So let’s see if we can work with that.
So here’s my oven-ready version of the protocol.
The key to it is respect. Various different parties have drawn red lines. And when you sit down to look at it, there are none of them that can’t be accommodated.
There’s a solution that allows you to retain the provincial champions, link it to the All-Ireland series but also recognise the fact that two of the four championships have become so weak and uncompetitive.
Play the provincial championships in spring as was proposed. The winners are given a pass to the last 16 of the All-Ireland series. If they don’t need it because of their league position (as is probable), then it passes down the foodchain to someone else.
Kerry and Dublin will almost certainly win their provinces anyway, so there’s another league spot opened up.
As for the league itself, it’s back to the old 1A/1B/2A/2B system. It’s the only way football will ever rebalance itself and stop the top few teams going further, further and further away.
You’re shaking up the top two divisions and then Division Three and Four together in order to try and give more teams exposure to games against better opposition, but opposition they can realistically compete with.
The top four from Divisions 1A and 1B will be guaranteed to qualify for the knockout stages, as will the top two from 2A and 2B. Beyond that, if the provincial winners still need a place, they get it. If they don’t, then playoffs across the divisions will sort it out.
Anyone that doesn’t qualify for the knockout, including those who lose playoffs, goes into the Tailteann Cup.
It means everyone starts the year with a chance to win Sam Maguire, which is one of the big red lines.
The provincial championships still carry weight, which is another.
Every county is guaranteed an absolute minimum of 11 games, and most will play at least 12.
It’s a system that fits into the window. Your All-Ireland final is in mid-July. The season is busy, but players have been crying out for more games. Using the last weekend of January for games would create an extra bit of breathing space, and you could even argue to use the weekend before that to space it out a bit more still.
It’s imperative that the knockout phase is expanded from eight teams to 16. Too many good teams are being written out of the summer too early otherwise.
The proposal does take a risk in terms of 5th and 6th place in Division 1A and 1B. There’s no guarantee that they will get a playoff, but it’s as close to a guarantee as you can offer without breaking the whole balance of the structure.
You can’t offer a knockout place to those four teams and the provincial champions. It has to be either or. But the chances of a provincial winner coming from outside the top 12 is slim enough.
There is no absolutely perfect system. This is not one either, but in terms of the flaws that were pointed out in Proposal B, this fixes a whole lot of them.
It gives the provincial councils what they asked for, which is a link between the province and the All-Ireland.
Ulster cannot have its cake and eat it. The Ulster Championship in summer is wasting the summer on three other provinces. We can’t keep holding the rest of the country to ransom.
Accepting a league-based system would also dramatically increase the chances of more All-Irelands coming north, rather than granting Kerry and Dublin walkovers into the last eight every year.
Change is coming.
Proposal B was not far away.
Flipping the season, tick.
Giving players more games, tick.
A league-based championship with a knockout phase, tick.
The flaws were too significant to allow it to pass but the basic structure of what was proposed was clearly decent. It got more than 50 per cent support on the floor at Congress.
This proposal doesn’t cross the red lines drawn at the weekend.
If there’s a better answer out there that is likely to build on the momentum that exists, now is the time to hear it.