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comment Why the GAA's failure to endorse Plan B will go down as one of their worst decisions

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Seán Bugler of Dublin in action against Dessie Ward of Monaghan and Karl O'Connell, left, during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match at St Tiernach's Park in Clones, Monaghan. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Seán Bugler of Dublin in action against Dessie Ward of Monaghan and Karl O'Connell, left, during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match at St Tiernach's Park in Clones, Monaghan. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Seán Bugler of Dublin in action against Dessie Ward of Monaghan and Karl O'Connell, left, during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match at St Tiernach's Park in Clones, Monaghan. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

NO other Sunday in 2022 will produce as much drama as the final round of the Allianz Football League did last weekend.

So-called ‘Super Sundays’ exceeded all expectations.

Every game – with the exception of the Division 4 tie between Sligo and Leitrim – mattered. The fact that three of the four Division 1 ties went down to the last play also added to the excitement.

But at the end of it all there was a sense of ‘what might have been’.

Had ten percent more of the delegates at last year’s special GAA Congress been bold enough to take a leap of faith and backed ‘Plan B’ it would have had a huge transformative impact on football.

The failure to endorse the plan designed to reform the All-Ireland championship will go down in history as one of the worst decisions ever made at a GAA Congress.

Had the new format been adopted, Super Sunday would have been transferred to mid-summer.

Better still, rather than fighting for league status, counties would have been aiming to secure their place in the Sam Maguire championship on Super Sunday.

I won’t bore you with all the intricate details. It’s suffice to point out that the top five teams in Division 1, top three in Division 2 and the winners of Division 3 and 4 would be advancing to the knock-out stages of the All-Ireland series.

So, for the counties in the top-flight, it wouldn’t have been good enough to avoid finishing either 7th or 8th. The magic placing would have been 5th.

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Monaghan players celebrate at the final whistle after their Division 1 victory over Dublin last Sunday. Will we see similar celebrations after the league final between Kerry and Mayo? Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Monaghan players celebrate at the final whistle after their Division 1 victory over Dublin last Sunday. Will we see similar celebrations after the league final between Kerry and Mayo? Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Monaghan players celebrate at the final whistle after their Division 1 victory over Dublin last Sunday. Will we see similar celebrations after the league final between Kerry and Mayo? Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

For the record, the top-five finishers in Division 1 this season were: Kerry, Mayo, Armagh, Donegal and Tyrone.

The league was cursed by woeful weather this spring. It is a travesty that the competition which matters most to the majority of counties is subjected to the worst vagaries of the Irish weather.

To make it clear, it was the selfishness of the more successful football counties: Kerry, Dublin, Mayo and Galway, together with the insular thinking of eight of the Ulster counties – Down voted for the plan – which sunk the proposal.

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We have them to thank for inflicting the outdated and mostly uncompetitive provincial series on us for the foreseeable future.

Of course, we will have a new version of the Super 8s next year.

This one involves 16 counties and in an already woefully contested fixtures programme, will require 24 matches to be played in order to eliminate four counties.

The football season is akin to a meal out: caviar for the first course, followed by stale bread and Lough Derg ‘soup’ (for anybody who hasn’t had the pleasure, the latter consists of boiled water with lashings of pepper and salt) for the main course.

The power of the Provincial Councils lobby and tradition is what keeps the provincial championships alive. Mercifully, the boycott by the Gaelic Players’ Association meant that the planned launches had to be cancelled this week.

Granted there will be handful of memorable matches but for the most part there will be a mixture of either low-quality or one-sided contests. It couldn’t be more different than the Allianz League.

This flawed system is going to be around for at least another three-and-a-half seasons so there is no option but to make the best of it.

Actually, Super Sunday could be better with a little more thought and innovation.

TG4, together with Waterford-based production company Nemeton, did a super job last Sunday, using split screens to keep us updated on most of the action in Division 1.

Ultimately nothing that happened in Killarney, Letterkenny or Carrick on Shannon – where Mayo hosted Kildare – matched the climax TG4’s featured game in Clones where Jack McCarron rescued Monaghan and condemned Dublin to Division 2 with his last-gasp free.

The GAA themselves destroyed the drama in Division 4 by allowing the Tipperary v London game to go ahead on a different day to the Sligo v Leitrim tie.

It would be relatively straightforward to expand Super Sunday over a weekend in order to ensure armchair TV fans got an opportunity to follow the drama in all four divisions.

So, the final round of Division 4 fixtures could all start at 2pm on Saturday, followed by the Division 3 fixtures at 4pm.

Twenty-four hours later the final round of Division 2 fixtures would begin at 2pm with the Division One programme beginning at 4pm.

The starting times are flexible depending on the availability of floodlit grounds – the only rule being that the four matches in each Division must start at the same time.

Given how short the new-look inter-county programme is, this is an ideal opportunity for it take over the airwaves and promote GAA.

So, though the jackpot has been put up in the air, let’s make the most of what we’re left with.

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