Following extensive consultation with players from each of the eight Division 4 teams, the players’ representative group have informed Croke Park unless the ‘B’ championship proposal is pulled from the Congress clár, top-brass run the risk of green-lighting a competition no county currently eligible for will play in.
The threat of strike unless a climbdown is forthcoming from GAA hierarchy on their favoured All-Ireland SFC structure is certain to lead to a further cooling in the relationship between the GPA and Croke Park. The GAA declined to comment on the possibility of a mass boycott.
“County teams directly affected by the introduction of a ‘B’ football championship have agreed unanimously they will not participate in any new structure if this format is approved by Congress later this month,” said the statement released by the GPA yesterday.
“The GPA has consulted extensively with squad reps from the Division 4 and a significant majority in each county have indicated they will refuse to play in the ‘B’ competition proposed by Central Council in January.
“The players’ body has contacted the GAA on behalf of the membership and indicated the issue of football competitions must be revisited and a solution found to the current challenges around viable structures,” the statement continued.
The growing spat between the organisations stems from the rejection of the GPA’s championship blueprint, issued before Christmas, which attempted to rebalance the training-to-game ratio.
The GPA want the provincial championships to remain, after which the All-Ireland series would be run on a Champions League-style format whereby from eight groups of four, 24 would qualify for the knockout stages.
The proposal was shot down by Central Council on the grounds it would lead to an increase in fixtures, putting further strain on the already-squeezed club programme.
GPA officials repeatedly insisted players do not want to ply their trade in a separate ‘B’ competition. This stance has now been consolidated with the threat of player boycott.
“As stated by the GPA from the outset of the process, the player proposals were never envisaged to be accepted as a fait accompli. However, the GPA clearly indicated a B championship concept would not be supported by players. The GPA reiterates its rejection of the claims a more condensed county playing season would impact negatively on club fixtures and, in particular, state the current, protracted format is impacting severely on club fixture programmes. One of the specific aims of the players’ proposals was to tackle the training culture pervading the GAA all levels.
“It is inconceivable to think that after this lengthy process the status quo will pertain while there is a growing consensus for urgent change amongst players; club and county, supporters and now administrators.
“While the GPA welcomes the debate generated over the past six months there is a need to establish a more effective process to bring about the change required. The GPA wishes to collaborate with all stakeholders within the GAA in an effort to establish an agreed new structure as the process put in place in this instance proved highly ineffective.”
To this regard, the players’ body has called on Croke Park to establish an independent working group to revisit the problems surrounding the All-Ireland SFC structure.
“We would encourage the GAA, post Congress, to establish a high powered free-standing working group to address the football competitions debacle and related issues.
“We suggest this group includes a strong representation of county players and club players who are the individuals most affected by the current procrastination. The views of county players have been communicated to the GAA in this regard.
“The GPA would also call on delegates at the upcoming GAA Congress to vote against any proposal supporting a B championship and are encouraging all football county squads to canvass their respective county delegates on this matter.”
Tadhg Ó hUallacháin - of Division 4 county Waterford - yesterday backed the GPA stance:
“The team as a whole unanimously voted we would not tog out for a B championship if it does pass through Congress.”
Ó hUallacháin claimed that Waterford and other fourth tier counties should be given the opportunity to take on the best sides in the country.
“If they eliminate us from the All-Ireland championship, we might never get to play some of the bigger teams again.