Uncovering the catalysts for real change

At first glance, it seems preposterous, a shambles, a fudge, the proverbial camel you invariably get when a committee tries to draw a horse.

To go to such lengths to fit eight into four. To try to save the provincial championships and leaving them open to mockery instead.

Monaghan going for back-to-back Connacht titles after winning back-to-back in Ulster. Laois winning Munster one year and Connacht the next. What kind of genius or madman came up with that? For a moment; then it kind of grows on you. Everyone still starts out in their own province; everyone can still win their own province. If Ulster means that much to you, well then, win your first game up there and you’ll stay up there. Ulster and Leinster Council are kept happy because they get the same number of games as they do now. Connacht and Munster Council are kept sweet because they get a couple of games more. Their clubs get to know when they play, they get to play regularly in the summer. And it provides even the weird and possibly wonderful dynamic of Galway and Roscommon supporters desperately rooting for Mayo to win a Connacht final because they don’t want some shower from the north or the east taking the Nestor Cup out of the province.

But usually first instincts are right and this is no exception. The novelty of the likes of Wicklow and Carlow playing the likes of Waterford and Clare in the championship will quickly wear off because they play enough already in Division Four of the league. There still will be no third force in Munster. A Tyrone man will feel sheepish lifting the Nestor Cup. The FRC can say a Galway hurler has already lifted the Bob O’Keeffe Cup in Leinster but there is no Connacht championship for Fergal Moore to lift. Bob’s the cup he aspires in winter to winning in July. No Monaghan man dreams during the winter of winning Connacht or Leinster — and none ever will. Because this baby will hardly float. You know what they say when you try to keep everyone happy — you please no one. But we’re guessing they probably knew and calculated that. That if somehow this proposal did get through, future events will only highlight the need for another format where the provincial championships do not hold the All-Ireland series captive and there is no tie-in between the competitions. Or that in the likely case it is blocked down, it increases the chances of many of the FRC’s other proposals getting through. Because Eugene McGee and his men know; if they get those other proposals through, they’ll have done football and the GAA some service. It is the nature of these reports that the headline is often just a floater, even a red herring to the real meat and substance hidden in the rest of the document. It was this way with the Strategic Review Committee of 2001 that for some was all about the idea of having two Dublin senior football teams, at a time when that county had gone six years without winning a provincial title. Instead that document contained proposals that would lay the platform for that county winning eight of the last nine provincial titles, as well as one in hurling.

The FRC report contains some sensible suggestions that Congress could well green light. Running the provincial and All-Ireland Club series off in the same calendar year was first floated at the burnout Special Congress of 2008 but was shut down; it has a real chance now, with the Saturday or Saturday week before Christmas under the Croke Park lights a possible hugely attractive date for the club finals.

The manic February-March timeblock would be eased somewhat by saving U21 players from playing for their senior county team in the league until their U21 provincial campaign was over. Changing the minor grade to U17 could well make life easier for Leaving Cert students, while the biggest one of all, ensuring every club player is guaranteed at least one senior or intermediate football championship in May, June and July would be monumental.

But even all those recommendations carry a caveat. St Patrick’s Day has become a very special place in the GAA calendar, a lot of clubs’ own road to September; the GAA would need something big to fill it and the FRC make no attempt to suggest what. There’s a big gap between playing U17 for the county and then playing U21, probably too big a gap; did they not consider an U20 grade? There is no possibility every county will be up to the semi-final stage of its own championships by early August; a quarter-final would be a more realistic aim, and if their new provincial championship format isn’t adopted, is even that realistic? As we’ve said often before, the GAA needs a committee much bigger and powerful and overseeing than the FRC to review its entire competition structures, incorporating hurling as well; it can’t just keep going for the piecemeal, ad-hoc arrangements it has continuously favoured up to now. Though, as McGee and the FRC could tell them, it’ll be some job trying to please all the people all of the time.

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