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big decision Next Saturday is a huge day for the GAA... proposal B is not an 'Open Sesame' to a glorious future

GPA-backed plan will deny some big teams shot at sam and ruin Provincial prestige


The rivalry, drama and tradition of a Munster clash between Kerry and Cork would be hugely eroded if the provincial championships become standalone.

The rivalry, drama and tradition of a Munster clash between Kerry and Cork would be hugely eroded if the provincial championships become standalone.

The rivalry, drama and tradition of a Munster clash between Kerry and Cork would be hugely eroded if the provincial championships become standalone.

So the teams ranked 17th and 25th in Ireland in a given year would be in the race for Sam - but the side ranked sixth wouldn't?

Next Saturday is a huge day for the GAA. A big decision on the structure of the Gaelic Football Championship is on the table at a Special Congress, with three proposals there for the delegates to consider.

I'm thinking of the words of former US President Theodore Roosevelt, that "in any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The next best is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."

So surely that would rule out the delegates going for Proposal C, which is to go back to the All-Ireland quarter-final structure, without the Super 8s, that last applied in 2017.

But I wonder? Looking back over history, a lot of bad choices have been made by people.

In 1962, Decca Records thought guitar groups were falling out of favour and rejected a four-piece combo from Merseyside called The Beatles.

The Titanic was deemed unsinkable - unless six of its watertight compartments were breached at the same time. The iceberg broke six of them.

Napoleon assembled the largest army ever known to man to invade Russia in 1812 - but didn't take account of the Russian winter. While only the 12 publishers rejected JK Rowling and her Harry Potter books.

So if, in say three years' time, we realise the GAA actually got it wrong with what they do next Saturday, they will not be alone.

What are we being offered? Proposal A would have four provinces of eight teams each.

With counties from Leinster and Ulster being dumped, against their will we imagine, into Connacht and Munster.

Pray tell me, who came up with this idea?

It's as if the lads assembled in the bar for a drink after a committee meeting and said, "Jaysus we better offer some other option" and this was the best they came up with while all half-cut.

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They could have come up with an even crazier one, which is to amalgamate counties on the basis of the Irish electoral map.

So we'd have had 11 Dublins, two Meaths and Kildares and a Longford-Westmeath, a Sligo-Leitrim and a Laois-Offaly.

In the immortal words of Fr Dougal, "That's mad, Ted."

If the delegates spend a minute, even a minute, discussing this proposal, then it is a minute wasted next Saturday.

Proposal B is the more interesting one, it is supported by the Gaelic Players Association and a lot of counties.

This would see the provincial championships played in February and March, instead of the O'Byrne Cup etc.

The Allianz Leagues would be played in April and May, with ten teams going forward from it to the All-Ireland series.

They would be the teams who finish one to five in Division One, the three teams who finish one to three in Division Two and the winners of the third and fourth Divisions.

Talk about complicated, but I can see positives. Every county can win the All-Ireland and the elitism of the Super 8s would be gone.

You would probably have more variety of matches than in the current qualifiers - which are full of Leinster and Ulster teams.

There would also be a minimum of seven games for each county, with a guaranteed three at home, which would produce a 15 per cent increase in games across the year. So far, so good.

But, after many days of looking at it, I can also see so many negatives.

Firstly, only ten teams would compete for Sam Maguire each year.

They wouldn't be the best ten, they would be the teams ranked 1 to 5, 9 to 11, and 17th and 25th after the League.

So the teams ranked 17th and 25th in Ireland in a given year would be in the race for Sam - and the team ranked sixth wouldn't?

As they used to say, 'Shurely Shome Mishtake.'

Ulster excepted, the provincial championships would wither and die.

They would become standalone tournaments that would have the same relevance, in a few years, as the McGrath Cup or the Connacht FBD League.

The Tier Two Tailteann Cup being proposed as part of this option is a good idea in theory.

But, in practice, unless it is supported and marketed, this new cup will become a dead duck.

And it won't even have what the Joe McDonagh Hurling Cup has -which is a guaranteed place in the All-Ireland series for its winners for the following season.

Worse still, a team could finish sixth in the league, consistently staying in the top flight, as a team like Monaghan does now, but would not qualify for the All-Ireland.

A county would be far better off in Division 2, well away from the likes of Dublin, Tyrone and Kerry in Division 1, and you've only have to be in the top three there to battle for Sam.

It doesn't make sense.

And here's another weakness of Proposal B, while there is a championship for the weaker counties, eight counties - three in Division One and five from Division Two - would get no Championship match at all in a given year.

Things are bad enough in Kerry right now, one All-Ireland won in 12 years, but we wouldn't have even had that one with this system, because the Kingdom finished sixth in Division One in 2014.

The new Option B will not save us from Championship mismatches either.

Longford and Louth are just two teams who have done well in the lower divisions in recent seasons.

With due respect to them, can you imagine either coming up against Kerry or Tyrone in the preliminary round of the All-Ireland?

Mickey Harte would probably relish a Louth-Tyrone showdown. Few others would!

And what about money? We've seen no cost-benefit analysis of these two proposals for change.

Will counties still get their percentage of the gate from league matches?

How will provincial councils fund their spending on coaching and building grants etc.

Because let me tell you the Connacht Council is not making a killing from Mayo v Galway in Castlebar on a filthy day in late February, when the match has no relevance to the All-Ireland.

Yes, this sort of structure for the Championship is fairer to all than a knockout and one guaranteed qualifier system.

But folks, there are just as many dud games in the league. This year we had Kerry beating Galway by 22 points and Tyrone by 16 in the league.

Mayo beat Down by 13 points and Kildare beat Laois by 13, too.

In the lower divisions Derry beat Longford and Fermanagh by 16 and 19 points respectively.

In Division Four, Louth saw off Sligo by 13 points and Carlow saw off Waterford by 15.

The Shangri-La of close games and even, exciting, matches doesn't exist.

It doesn't even exist in hurling either, where the teams are separated according to ability in five tiers.

Actually, hurling probably needs about ten tiers, because Offaly won this year's Christy Ring Cup Final while scoring 41 points.

Ye Gods, they must have scored every time they had possession of the sliotar. And as for giving those tiers a bit of status.

The 2021 Nicky Rackard Cup Final was played before the Ulster Football Final in Croke Park and there were no more that 100 people at it for most of the game. I know, I counted them. Marketing - my arse.

So Proposal B is not an 'Open Sesame' to a glorious future.

This is a classic example of a camel being a horse designed by a committee, with something on offer for everyone.

Proposal C is the status quo, but without the round-robin that was only brought in as an experiment for three years, starting in 2018.

We'd go back to the four provincial champions playing the four survivors of the qualifiers in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

To me, that is still the best of three poor options this week.

I don't pretend to have the silver bullet that is the perfect solution - maybe there actually isn't one out there at all? I do believe we have to keep the provincial Championships - as they are most counties' best chance of silverware.

And the players seem to be set against any system that does not give them all a shot at winning the All-Ireland, no matter how faint the prospect of it actually happening.

I'd like everyone to go back to the table again and start tossing things around.

Proposal B for next Saturday is the bones of a good idea, but, as I have shown, it is far from perfect. In fact I think it could cause as many problems as it might solve.

We need to think outside the box with a structure for more games, more meaningful matches, for something like Friday night games, or even the famous American 'Monday Night Football'.

A real radical one is where we amalgamate poorly populated areas. The GAA will have to grasp this nettle some day soon if the ongoing population drift from west to east continues in Ireland.

But I will say this, to ditch the provincial championships right now, as part of the All-Ireland series, would be a massive and, I believe, dangerous change.

It would delete almost a century and a half of colour, excitement, history, rivalry, tradition.

I'm telling you this - a Leitrim-Sligo Connacht Championship match may not have much relevance to the All-Ireland series anymore.

But it will still engender a lot more local rivalry, heat, passion, debate and interest than a Leitrim-Sligo Tailteann Cup match.

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