It may have been a launch but yesterday was also a goodbye from Eugene McGee as Football Review Committee (FRC) chairman.
His brief extended as far as yesterday’s press conference. “Yes, I will never be heard of again,” he laughed. “I will write my column under a nom de plume so people think I am gone. This was meant to be a white paper but not like last year where we went to Congress with it.”
This, the second part of the FRC’s report on the state of football, was not originally part of the gig. That became evident when a Croke Park official admitted he was surprised McGee and his group had been asked to look at the structure of the Championship.
Whether that was at the behest of GAA president Liam O’Neill, who commissioned the former Offaly All-Ireland winning manager to put an independent team together to look at the playing rules, or at McGee’s insistence, it can be applauded at the very least for stirring people’s imaginations.
The black card may have been radical but the FRC were never going to rock the boat too much with their blueprint of the season. They understood their parameters would be restricted. As McGee said last month: “We’ll produce a document and after that, they can do what they like. We don’t want to dictate to the GAA what they should do about fixtures.”
But they also knew what could be sold. A Champions League format wasn’t going to float with county boards or provinces. When studied, it wasn’t going to fly either in the sense that it threatened to undermine the neighbourly and provincial rivalries that have been cemented for decades.
By working with tradition and not against it, the FRC have come up with a practical frame but it might not be exactly a solution.
The Munster football championship has been crying out for a new streak of competitiveness but will two beaten Leinster teams, both who likely either be Division 3 or 4, sweeten the pot? Will they be as motivated to win a provincial title that is not their own?
On the other hand, the possibility of eight teams in each province would answer criticisms of the inequality of the Championship in terms of quantity of games, if not quality.
Next year, Cork and Kerry are three steps away from reaching an All-Ireland final if you exclude their byes to separate Munster semi-finals. Tyrone, for the second year running, are at least five hops away from a late September date, with the shortest path being through the most cutthroat province.
The idea to stage all 16 of the provincial quarter-finals over just two weekends might appear on the surface a massive promotional opportunity to some but boiled down, it’s a nightmare for exposure from a TV and general media perspective. Why would the GAA want to put all those eggs in one basket?
However, on the plus side, having so many of those games closer together in the calendar would free up more time for clubs later in summer.
That might go some way to attaining the FRC’s highly ambitious recommendation for all county senior and intermediate semi-finals to be played by August and concluding the All-Ireland club series by December.
Such ideas read like pie in the sky when considering the multitude of factors fixture planners have to take into account, such as underage games, dual players, qualifier runs, replays and holidays.
Besides, while we might be enjoying one of the mildest starts to December in recent times, hosting the premier club games at a time of year when the weather is potentially most volatile isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
Another thing: the title of “less successful counties”, the one they ascribe to four of the six counties in Munster among 15 in total, is an unfortunate one. Developing would have been more appropriate. It’s like each of them have been handed the GAA’s version of the infamous “I Had A Macedonia” training bib.
The FRC’s grade for this report isn’t as high as the one they earned for its predecessor. But then this latest offering was a bonus. The GAA are right to take their time with it. The findings are thought-provoking but need polishing.
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Nash facing backlash over raw style
The “wanted” posters are well and truly out for Anthony Nash now but the first one appeared in these pages a few days after he struck gold in the first All-Ireland final.
Former Clare goalkeeper Seamus Durack pulled him up on his remarkable free-taking technique. “I’m not getting at Anthony Nash,” he said, “who’s a wonderful goalkeeper but it’s not right being allowed to throw the ball up in the air seven yards in front of you. It’s a pure joke.
“As far as I see it, once the ball is touched it’s hit so the players on the line should be allowed to advance.”
Since then, it’s been revealed the playing rules committee will put forward a motion to stamp out his style of free-taking on safety grounds.
Durack came up with a possible solution. “What I’d like to see is a spot being marked 25 yards out and the player having to hit the ball on that spot. Just him and a goalkeeper in front of him. Nobody else.”
Nash, you might think, wouldn’t mind that either. His goal-scoring this season should be celebrated, not condemned. A move to making life easier for him when he did what almost all of us thought was impossible would be entirely appropriate.
FRC get semi-finals call right
One of the Football Review Committee’s less heralded proposals yesterday is to do away with the semi-finals from Division 1.
Apart from the minor age limit change, there was perhaps no more sensible recommendation in their report.
How anyone can see rewarding half the eight teams with a knockout spot as being conducive to a healthy and vibrant competition is baffling.
The argument for their introduction was that it would cut the number of dead rubber games towards the end. Instead, all it has done is undermine the league’s integrity.
This year, one point separated semi-finalists from relegation. Last year it was two. Mayo lost more games — four — than they won this year — three. They were defeated as many times as Donegal, who went down. Sorry, but such fine lines are alarming when they separate mediocrity from mediocrity.
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