The Championship

Pete McGrath slams proposed changes to All-Ireland SFC

Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath isn't a fan of the proposed changes to the Championship  
Anthony Gunning

PETE McGRATH has slammed the new proposals for changing the format of the All-Ireland Football Championship Qualifiers from 2018.

The Fermanagh manager was speaking at the Feile an Phobail GAA talk night at St Gall’s in Belfast on Monday as part of a panel that included GAA director-general Paraic Duffy, former Antrim hurler Terence McNaughton and ex-Donegal star Brendan Devenney.

The topic of the new structures proposed by the GAA last week was one of the first issues discussed on the night and drew a mixed response from the panel, with McGrath saying he feels the two groups of four proposal for the quarter-finals will only serve to benefit the stronger counties and make it even more difficult for a ‘weaker county’ to emerge and make a run to the semi-finals, as has been the case with Tipperary this season.

“I think they are flawed,” said the Down native.

“It’s a rather mixed-up competition, that goes from individual matches to a group stage and back to knockout for the semi-finals. The chances are at least one of those group games will be a dead rubber. With the group of four in the quarter-final stage, the prospect of a team like Tipperary getting to a semi-final or Fermanagh or Antrim is obliterated.

"Tipperary might catch Galway on a given day or Fermanagh might catch a Dublin on a given day, but not in a round-robin. I think the whole formula is an attempt to keep the top teams in the competition for longer. It used to be the case that the team who won the All-Ireland was unbeaten. Now, a team could lose two games and win it, so I think the Championship is being diluted and this round-robin will dilute it further.”

Under the proposals released last week, drafted by GAA director-general Paraic Duffy and president Aogan O Fearghail with the backing of their management committee, the Qualifiers would no longer be split into A and B sections, while Division Three and Four teams would be guaranteed home ties against those from the top two divisions of the National League in rounds one to three.

Round four would remain as it is, but instead of knockout quarter-finals, the four provincial winners would be joined by the teams that emerge from the fourth qualifying round in two groups of four, with the first set of fixtures to be played at Croke Park, while the second round would be hosted by the provincial winners and the third round by the qualifying county.

“I think that’s a huge positive because people want to see the top teams playing each other more often at a time of year when they want to go to games,” said the director-general, who refuted allegations the system is being tweaked to ensure the bigger counties are given every chance to reach the final stages each year.

“People talk about Tipperary or a Galway to get through to an All-Ireland semi-final, but you want the two best teams to make it through to the final,” added the Scotstown native.

“Tipperary are in the last-four this year and Clare were in the last-eight. It’s not so long ago Donegal and Monaghan were the poor relations. People are saying ‘ah, it’s the old GAA thing of more money for playing games in Croke Park’. It’s not that as, under this, we will be bringing eight games out to the provinces.”

However, this was met with scepticism from McGrath, who believes such moves are at odds with the spirit of competition: “I just don’t think what they have come up with this time is the right way to go,” he countered.

“If your system is always going to be fashioned so the best teams in the country, i.e. the biggest teams geographically, the biggest financially get to the final day in September then, for me, it’s a pretty morally bankrupt way of looking at sport. Sport is about the romance, the underdog and the people who are going to go out and give it their all on a given day to beat the odds, that’s sport.”

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