Before we go any further, allow me to put my cards tentatively on the table. I support proposal ‘B’, albeit marginally, and only on the basis that there is a mechanism to rectify a gaping error in its current design – that being the curious limbo of Number 6.
eading into today’s landmark Congress, sufficient weight seems to be behind proposal ‘B’ and that will see delegates turn the football championship on its head. But, in all likelihood, it will go down to a handful of votes either way.
If those numbers fall narrowly on the ‘No’ side, however, it will be down to a massive own goal involving obvious and avoidable issues around the team that finishes sixth in Division 1.
It is simply not credible that a team that retains its top-tier status cannot compete in that same year’s All-Ireland championship. In fact, it is quite conceivable that the reigning All-Ireland champions could finish in this position and be prevented from defending their crown that summer.
Earlier this week, Monaghan’s Darren Hughes plainly spoke about his rejection of the proposals. Why, you might ask? Well, over three of the past five seasons, Monaghan have finished in the now-derided sixth place in Division 1. Need I say more? In the other two years, that finishing position went to Tyrone and Mayo, this year’s All-Ireland finalists. Do you still think this is a plausible concept?
A possible option to square this circle would be that the top two teams in Division 2 would play qualifiers against the winners of Division 3 and 4, with the two winners joining the top 6 Division 1 teams to contest the All-Ireland series.
At the end of the day the sixth-placed team in Division 1 should be given a higher reward than any team being promoted from Division 2. That simple change, or one comparable to it, would likely bring the Monaghans and Mayos of this world onside. Otherwise, you are effectively asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.
If there is scope for this aspect alone to be changed after a ‘Yes’ vote today, Larry McCarthy et al need to shout it from the rooftops prior to the votes being cast, as this alone will prove a deciding factor for many swing voters on the day. If not, well then, I am sorry; it is enough for me to say that the drawing board needs to be revisited. Farce will likely ensue otherwise.
Elsewhere, there is an unavoidable waft of tokenism around awarding the Division 3 and 4 winners a pathway to a competition they have no chance of winning that same year.
However in terms of long-term development, and to maintain the interest of supporters and players, it is worth trying at least. Glancing through the teams that have won these divisions in recent years, ie Armagh, Derry, Cork, Westmeath and Cork , all would be confident of giving the top Division 2 teams a good rattle. If they win that game, after a progressive league campaign, well then, they are entitled to a seat at the top table.
In terms of the provincial championships, it is understandable that Ulster GAA CEO Brian McAvoy, and his Leinster counterpart Michael Reynolds, have come out swinging against a proposal that seeks to reduce the relevance of their provincial fiefdoms. Brian’s biggest problem, however, is that there is only one Ulster Championship. If the other provinces even came close to it in terms of competitiveness, we would not be in this situation.
However, even Ulster’s marquee competition is a far cry from its halcyon days when ferocious rivalries enthralled supporters, and the electrifying soundtrack of Jimmy Smyth’s commentary brought the games to life in your living room.
The best thing that McAvoy and Reynolds can do now is acknowledge the writing that is on the wall for the provincial competitions as we know them.
Even allowing for the understandable objections from some towards today’s proposals, the generalisation that the GAA is slow-moving and resistant to change no longer applies. The last few years have clearly illustrated that.
Back in February 2017 on the eve of the last seminal Congress vote, the ‘Super 8s’ proposal, I appeared on The Sunday Game, canvassing for its introduction.
‘It’s not a panacea, it doesn’t aim to be. The perfect solution doesn’t exist, but it is a step in the right direction’ was something close to my words to Michael Lyster on the night. Four years on, proposal ‘B’ attempts to retain some of the good experienced in the ‘Super 8s’, whilst at the same time addressing some of its elitist criticisms.
Ultimately, I am a strong advocate for change and experimentation in our competitions. The tumultuous past few years, that have seen both club and county competitions contorted as required, should have brought most people towards a similar disposition. By embracing change, we will allow ourselves to edge slowly towards a better and more equitable system for all.
Why, at the end of the day, should we be any different to other major sporting organisations who are constantly tweaking and changing their competition structures to meet modern-day needs? We need look only as far as our oval ball counterparts, whose competitions have had more reconstructions and name changes than Kim Kardashian and Kanye West combined.
Last weekend I played what is likely my last game of club football after 24 years.
The changes I have witnessed at both club and county over the last four years dwarves anything that happened over the previous 20.
This morning I took to the field for my first morning as Manager of the County U-15 development squad. With my playing days behind me, I look forward to a career on the sidelines, and a new and more equitable GAA world, which my players can look forward to.
A pathway to betterment for all is at the core of what proposal ‘B’ aims to achieve. On the basis that its few anomalies can be tidied up if required, it is worth backing by delegates today.