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Decisions taken at the last couple of GAA Congresses are coming back to haunt them

GAA Central Council delegates face a series of unpalpable choices.


Sean McGoldrickSunday World

THE sound of chickens coming home to roost will be heard all around Croke Park on Saturday.

Why? GAA Central Council delegates face a series of unpalpable choices.

Strategic decisions taken at the last couple of GAA Congresses are now coming back to haunt them.

The first was the historic county-club fixtures split voted through at the GAA Congress in February 2021. As a result the All-Ireland championships in football and hurling finished before the end of July this year.

Though the decision was always going to have profound implications for the Association these were not teased out at the remote Congress. Indeed, there was no meaningful debate.

At the time I believed it was an overly simplistic solution to a very complex issue.

However, I am inclined to agree with GAA President Larry McCarthy who has repeatedly said it is too early to pass judgement on the new calendar which is still to complete one full cycle.

I would be less sanguine about the merits of the second key decision which was overwhelming passed at the 2022 Congress.

At the time I suggested the decision to back a new-look All-Ireland football championship would go down in history as one of the worst ever made at Congress. I haven’t changed my mind since.

A short history of how the GAA came to accept this proposal is needed to illustrate my argument.

The previous GAA President John Horan appointed a Football Task Force to come up with proposals to address concerns about the format of the All-Ireland football series.

Having consulted widely, their plan was unveiled. In GAA terms it was radical, proposing the provincial championships be stand-alone competitions run at the start of the season with the National Leagues becoming the feeder competition for the All-Ireland series.

Unfortunately the remit of the committee ceased once John Horan left office. And, due to the profound implications of the proposals, it was rightly agreed that they could not be debated at a remote Congress.

So, a special Congress was fixed for last autumn. But this created a problem – essentially there was nobody around to promote or even fully explain the reasoning behind the new-look championship.

It was left to the Gaelic Players’ Association to spearhead the campaign for a Yes vote.

For months the GAA President Larry McCarthy and director-general Tom Ryan sat on the fence and didn’t engage in the debate. Finally, a few days before the vote they gave the proposal a timid endorsement.

In the meantime, the Ulster GAA Council mounted a vigorous campaign to reject the plan and maintain the historic link between the provincial championships and the All-Ireland series.

And the big football powers, Dublin, Kerry, Galway and Mayo weighed in against the reform package as well. Though it was backed by a slim majority of delegates at Congress, it fell short of the two-third majority required.

What happened next beggars belief. The President formed a new committee which he himself chaired to come up with a new plan. A number of significant tweaks were made to the proposal which had been supported by a majority of delegates.

But the committee then came up with their own plan, which ultimately was accepted at last year’s GAA Congress. Crucially it retained the primacy of the provincial series.

So, next season there will be a series of round-robin games in both the Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cup before the knock-out phase. Forty eight games will be played to eliminate eight teams – four from each championship.

In an already over-crowded fixture list the format makes little sense. On a practical level it requires two additional weekends for inter-county football.

So, the GAA fixture planners are proposing to abolish the four football league finals and extend the season by one week with the All-Ireland football final taking place on Sunday, July 30 next year to accommodate the extra fixtures. Only in the GAA could the rules of a competition be changed before it has actually started.

In the new-look football series the Division 2 winners would be ranked as the seventh best finisher in the League and qualify automatically for the Sam Maguire series. The beaten Division 2 finalists would be ranked eighth, ahead of the two teams relegated from Division 1 who would be ranked ninth and tenth respectively.

If Central Council back the CCCC plan then this rule will have to be amended to allow the county that finishes top of Division 2 to be ranked seventh which in fairness is a better system as it rewards them for their consistency in the league.

In the event of the proposal to scrap the league final being rejected it opens up the possibility of some finalists been involved in preliminary round championship games in Leinster, Ulster or Connacht a week later.

There is a touch of Hobson’s choice facing the delegates. Don’t feel sympathy for them. They created the problem.

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