FRC plan ‘fairer’ provincial system

GAA president Liam O’Neill has challenged the Association to back the Football Review Committee’s (FRC) Championship proposal or produce a better alternative.

In the second and final part of their report released yesterday, the Eugene McGee-led group called for the four provincial championships to start with eight counties in each competition.

Rather than redrawing provincial boundaries, they suggest the three preliminary round losers in Leinster and one in Ulster enter the Munster and Connacht championships so that there are four quarter-finals comprising eight teams in each province.

For proximity purposes, the FRC suggest two Leinster teams would enter the Munster championship while the other and the one Ulster team would go into Connacht. Also, the preliminary round teams would be decided by their finishing positions in the previous season’s National League.

The fate of New York would be a matter for the Connacht Council. However, the FRC envisage the 16 provincial quarter-final games taking place over two weekends.

The recommendations, which also include the minor age limit being dropped by a year to U17 and the All-Ireland club championships finishing in the calendar year, won’t form motions in time for February’s Annual Congress.

Unlike the first report, McGee won’t lobby for support and both he and O’Neill stressed the most recent publication is, for now, purely a discussion paper. However, Coiste Bainistí (Management Committee) will begin the discussion process shortly and January’s Central Council will continue it next month. The proposals may be voted on at a Special Congress later next year or at 2015’s Annual Congress.

Launching the report, O’Neill said: “This will open discussion. We’re asking people to debate the report, support the proposals or come up with better. It’ll go through the channels, Coiste Bainistí will be made aware of it immediately. Our meeting is next Friday so that process will start and we’ll decide, depending on the initial reaction, where it’ll go but it won’t be going to Congress 2014.”

McGee played down the significance of Leinster and Ulster counties entering Munster and Connacht, citing how Galway’s hurlers have played in both Munster and currently Leinster along with Antrim.

“In my view, it would certainly leave the Connacht championship much more interesting. Sometimes in the Connacht championship you could have two Division 4 teams playing in the semi-final, so I’m sure the Connacht Council, from a financial point of view, would probably be welcoming that.

“In Munster, we have talked to the four weaker counties. With two other counties going in at least, there will be six of them playing and it might open the way for them to play more games and the eventual winner will be in a stronger position to play Kerry or Cork.”

He also made light of the three Leinster and one Ulster teams having three chances of winning the championship compared to the four provincial winners who have no second bite of the cherry.

“We don’t see anything wrong with getting three chances or losing three times because we can’t get perfection. We think it’s the fairest and the word ‘fair’ is important word here.

“The provincial champions, one would feel, would be strong enough to look after themselves. That’s basically it.”

McGee dismissed the possibility that the idea of finishing the entire club programme — from county to provincial to All-Ireland — by December might be fanciful. “We feel it’s not just as aspiration. We feel it should be a necessity because the starting point for improving the club situation nationally would be that the date is set for the All-Ireland Club final.

“If it were yesterday [Sunday], which would probably be the normal day, then everything works back from there and all the relevant parties involved in the All-Ireland Club championship, the clubs who are in it, the county boards who are attached to the clubs, the provincial councils and the Central Council, it’d be their job to make sure that the All-Ireland final takes place on that date.

“It would be an incentive to do what we’re doing in the summer time, to get more matches played. So many things would reverberate on that.”

The FRC also take aim at inter-county managers for exerting “undue influence on the county board in respect of club fixtures”, while the Donegal County Board were also in their firing line for delaying their 2014 club championship until the senior county team’s interest in the All-Ireland is over.

“[It] represents a fundamental and potentially disastrous development. Were such a practice to become widespread, this would strike at the very heart of club football, and undermine the ethos of the GAA as an amateur, sporting, social and community organisation.”

O’Neill expressed his disappointment with the decision in Donegal, which he and other Croke Park officials are currently discussing with the county board.

On the subject of club fixture problems, O’Neill revealed the GAA intend chronicling the entire calendar of the inter-county season for each county to see just how much of an impact it has on their club scene.

Interestingly, he added: “We might have to make some decisions like a proposal of the hurling review group that minors don’t play adult. That would free up a huge amount of time. If people in the U21 championship didn’t play National League games until they were finished, that would free up a whole lot more space.”

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