‘There’s a majority for change’ – GAA chief says provincial championships key to solving All-Ireland SFC conundrum

Where to now for the football championships? From the floor of Congress there was a clear consensus for change but not enough for the changes that Proposal B offered.

ust as those who spoke for and against it acknowledged change was required, there was acknowledgement of flaws in what was before them too.

But with essentially a 50/50 split on the motion, that fundamentally took the provincial championships away as the centrepiece, the gateway for the football championship, they look to have at least a short term future.

GAA president Larry McCarthy and Director-General Tom Ryan addressed the media after today’s vote to retain the status quo and while they took from the debate that there was a clear mood for change, how to go about it now is the conundrum.

But McCarthy did express doubt as to whether a proposal would be in place for Congress 2022 in February, something the Gaelic Players Association chief executive Tom Parsons said they will be pushing for.

“I expect that we will revisit this very, very quickly,” said McCarthy at a press briefing.

“I’m not so sure we’ll have something for (Congress 2022) February but there’s a majority for change and every speaker said they’d like change. In a lot of cases it just wasn’t the change that was proposed, but there’s certainly a mandate there with 50.6 per cent.”

McCarthy accepted that retention of a link between the provincial and All-Ireland championship was evident among many speakers on the floor.

“If you think about the eight or nine people who spoke against it, all essentially supported their own provincial championship,” he said.

“So I think that would suggest it has to have a central role somehow. Don’t ask me what that role is. One of the suggestions floated early was that there should be some link between the provincial championship and All-Ireland championship in the summer.

“I must say I don’t know how you’d do that (using proposal B as a framework) but that seems to be a desire.”

Ryan concurred that a desire for change was now apparent but acknowledged that something in time for next February would be a “challenge.”

“To the extent that it’s possible to expedite something from where we are today, we’re not in a bad position. But there’s no point in saying that it’s straightforward either, there’s a fair bit of work ahead of us,” said Ryan.

“Half of the people in the room and hopefully that means half the people in the country supported what was specifically in front of them (B) today.”

Parsons also spoke afterwards and said there would be urgency on his association’s behalf to make it a priority.

He praised the players’ engagement for driving on a motion that was considered a “dead duck” just one month ago.

“Don’t tell me we can’t come in February with a stronger proposal. We’ve got a proposal that got the majority today, that sparked huge interest and conversation. It is the foundation to something. Not all that work is undone because it didn’t pass today,” he suggested.

On the prospect of the provincial championship remaining as the spine of future structures he said it was clear that such geographical binds were at the hearts of mismatches.

“Everybody mentioned mismatches and we’ll count the times those words were used that nobody wants to see them. Even some of the delegates mentioned our best competitions are the leagues and that’s because they are competitive games,” he said.

So I don’t think anybody can argue that the best competition isn’t a tiered league format and that needs to be front and centre in the summer months that will attract spectators, families and kids, and allow teams to play their best football.

“I don’t think that will change. If we consult back with players I very much expect players will want the centrepiece of the summer to be the league as championship. It’s captured the hearts and minds of way too many people for it not to be. Players will consult on what has happened and see what the appetite of February’s proposal will be,” said Parsons.

All eight Ulster counties who opposed Proposal B had delegates who spoke for the need for patience and wider consultation.

In contrast, only Offaly chairman Michael Duignan spoke from Leinster (former GAA president John Horan apart). Dublin, the biggest and most successful football county, did not contribute to the debate, nor was it clear what way they voted.

Ulster secretary Brian McAvoy was one of the strongest voices against proposal B in the last few weeks and afterwards, while accepting some change is required, he felt the weight of the vote validated a key place in the calendar for the provincial championships, specifically a link to the All-Ireland Championship that wasn’t there in ‘B.’

“If I wear my provincial hat, I think there’s a clear momentum now that there has to be still a link between the provincial championships and the All-Ireland series,” he said.

“I think perhaps there’s a possibility for the leagues to be revamped and a route to the All-Ireland through the leagues as well. I think we can be creative, give the players more football, if that’s what they want.

“One of the things purported is that it gives more games – it doesn’t actually. I see that with my own county. Under the current scenario, Down get two McKenna Cup games guaranteed, seven league games guaranteed, two championship games guaranteed – that’s 11.

“Under Proposal B they get three provincial games, or basically revamped McKenna Cup by a different name, and seven league games guaranteed. Nothing else. So they could be playing less games.”

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