Speaking at the Ireland team’s Duxton Hotel in Perth yesterday, O’Neill referenced the work of the committee, which will shortly deliver proposals to condense the GAA season into a calendar year.
He revealed scheduling the finals earlier by one week is a cornerstone of the recommendations going forward to Congress in February with a mind to them coming into operation in 2016.
“If we get permission to move the All-Irelands forward that will create windows. We can do other creative things with the staging of All-Ireland quarter-finals and semi-finals.
“You could gain another week, you could gain another couple of weeks once you move away from the fundamental thing that the All-Ireland finals have to be the first and third Sundays of September.
“Our preference all along up to this point was that September was ours and we always resisted (moving from) that. But Páraic (Duffy) and I have come to the conclusion now that if we don’t give centrally we can’t expect counties and clubs to give. But if we do give centrally not only are we showing good will, we’re actually creating the space in which all the other games can take place.
“You can revolutionise it by just one simple thing. If we can move in the calendar year it’s going to make such a fantastic difference to fixture-making because people will know what’s on and when.”
O’Neill said bringing forward the All-Ireland finals by more than a week would not be palatable to GAA members. “Obviously, the more you go away from what you have the less chance you have of doing it because people resist change. What we’re saying is we’ll change how we’ll run our part in it. If All-Ireland finals are earlier, counties are going to complete their commitments earlier.
“By the beginning of August you might have a situation where you only have four counties in each code (left in the All-Ireland championship). That frees up an awful lot of counties to start their championships and you have progressively then the counties that are least strong will be out first.”
Counties won’t be asked to finish their championships in time but informed if they are to be represented in the club provincial and All-Ireland competitions they will have to conclude them by certain dates.
The success of the proposal is just as dependent on the motion for the national Competitions Control Committee to take responsibility for all fixture-making outside counties.
“It’s not forcing them, it’s just saying ‘the All-Ireland series is starting on these dates, if you want to be in the All-Ireland series, complete your championship before that’. That’s where the discipline is going to come into it.
“No one is going to go into Ulster and tell them what to do.”
The move marks a change of mind for Duffy who spoke strongly against a similar motion in Derry two years ago. Duffy argued that a move away from September finals would damage the promotion of the games.
“Páraic is quite open about it,” said O’Neill. “He’s changed his mind because we want to do something different. If you keep on doing the same thing, you’ll get the same results. Páraic was adamant on that and there was good reason, his thinking was sound.”
If the calendar year motion is passed, a substitute will be needed to fill the St Patrick’s Day slot vacated by the All-Ireland senior club finals. O’Neill said there are a number of options being considered such as the Railway Cups as a festival, which was also a successful motion put forward by the Football Review Committee.
“A number of groups have their eye on it as a possibility. We have never used the St Patrick’s Day as a festival. It has been competitive, been about the club finals. I don’t think we’d have any difficulty, if we look at it differently, look at St Patrick’s weekend as a festival weekend, I think we could find a way of doing it. I wouldn’t see the two things as being linked. I would hate to think that anybody would stop the idea of finishing the championships in one year simply because we might have a difficulty around Patrick’s Day. We’ll find solutions.”