Provinces to be redrawn in GAA’s bold new era

Provinces to be redrawn in GAA’s bold new era
Fixtures Calendar Review Taskforce chairman Eddie Sullivan, GAA president John Horan, and Fergal McGill, GAA Director of Player, Club, and Games Administration at yesterday’s briefing. Picture: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

A Special Congress in April or May of next year will determine if the provincial boundaries are redrawn so to provide four eight-team provincial football championships.

The fixture calendar review taskforce yesterday laid bare their two blueprints to radically alter the format of the All-Ireland SFC, with a third option — the retention of the current structure — also included in the committee’s 63-page final report.

At the end of the report are the results of a questionnaire, drawn up by the committee to gauge the mood of the wider GAA membership on certain issues, but despite 46% of respondents (575 people) favouring the abolition of the provincial championships, the taskforce was not prepared to take such an unprecedented step.

That said, their first proposal pertaining to the format of the football championship recommends tweaking the existing model so that each province consists of eight counties. Was this proposal adopted, Munster and Connacht would both welcome two counties from either Leinster or Ulster.

GAA top-brass were light on detail yesterday as to what process would be employed to determine which counties are moved into neighbouring provinces.

“Some sort of a play-off, perhaps, or divisional structure within the league,” said GAA president John Horan when pressed on how four eight-team provinces is to be arrived at.

Taskforce secretary Feargal McGill said the committee deliberately avoided getting too bogged down on this issue.

“We don’t want anyone to reject anything, in theory, to begin with. It is very difficult to move forward in any meaningful way unless you get a good idea from people that [they] like, roughly, where this is going. We will work the specifics later.”

As part of this proposed format, the league would retain its current timing and structure. Finishing positions, however, would determine seeding come championship. Each provincial competition would be split into two groups of four and run off on a round-robin basis. The top team in either group progress to their respective provincial final; the second and third-placed teams move into the qualifiers, with the bottom-placed teams participating in the Tier 2 championship.

This approach, which does not include the Super 8 model at the quarter-final stage, guarantees each county a minimum of four championship games and increases from 12 to 15 the number of club only weekends.

The second proposal recommends playing the provincial championships, as they currently exist, in February/March. The league would then take precedence from mid-May to mid-July to determine the make-up of the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

The top four in Division 1 and top two in Division 2 would advance to the All-Ireland quarter-finals; the top team in Division 3 and 4, along with teams placed third and fourth in Division 2, go into qualifiers to see who takes the final two last-eight spots.

The same as with the first blueprint, the Super 8 model would not be used for the quarter-finals, while the number of club only weekends jumps from 12 to 15.

Under this proposal, the Tier 2 championship would consist of the remaining teams in Division 3 and 4.

Defending their decision not to scrap the provincial model, taskforce chair Eddie Sullivan said the committee “felt, on balance, the time was not right now to do it”.

“There is enough variety in the report in terms of the provincial championship. You have essentially got three different types of provincial championships in there,” added McGill.

If either of these proposals are greenlit then New York will likely be dumped from the All-Ireland SFC. To ensure at least one high-profile GAA game in the Big Apple, it is proposed that New York host the winners of the Tier 2 championship in an inter-continental cup final at the end of October each year.

The GAA will now embark on a nationwide consultation that will include regional meetings to debate the contents of the taskforce’s report.

“Some low-hanging fruit may well be brought to Congress in February and then we hope to have a Special Congress in April/May next year to deal with the document’s more substantive issues,” Horan outlined.

In each of the proposed calendars drawn up by the group, the All-Ireland senior hurling and football finals are scheduled on back-to-back weekends. Traditionally, there has always been a fortnight between the two deciders.

“Something has to give,” said Horan.

Added GAA head of games administration McGill: “To our committee, creating more time for the club was more important than having that gap week. It will certainly pose challenges for counties in terms of ticket distribution.” The taskforce are in favour of retaining pre-season competitions, provided they do not throw-in until post January 1.

Although the committee did not put forward any concrete recommendations to tweak the All-Ireland SHC, it did pass comment on the groundswell of support to increase the number of teams in the Leinster round-robin from five to six so to prevent the Joe McDonagh Cup champions yo-yo-ing between the first and second tiers.

The addition of a sixth team in Leinster would allow for potential consolidation and gradual improvement. It would also remove the need for the current preliminary quarter-finals which, in the view of the taskforce, serve very little purpose.

“On the other hand, the addition of a sixth team would dilute the competitiveness of the championship. The view of the taskforce is that this is something the Hurling Development Committee should be charged with examining in more detail and bringing forward a proposal, if necessary.”

The taskforce suggested the Galway club hurling winners compete in either the Leinster or Munster championship.

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