GAA president John Horan has asked the newly formed fixtures review group to bring three proposals to Congress 2020 in a bid to resolve the Association’s calendar crisis.
Horan revealed yesterday morning that Eddie Sullivan, former chairman of the St Sylvester's club in Malahide and former secretary general at the Department of Finance, will chair the committee which meets for the first time next month.
The Club Players Associations (CPA) and Gaelic Players Association (GPA) will each have one representative as will the GAA’s post-primary and third-level bodies.
The committee will finalise its work in October, with Horan stressing the importance of more than one proposal being drawn up so as to give delegates the option of voting to discontinue the provincial championships.
“I would be hoping this group will come back with proposals that will be beneficial to the clubs on the ground,” Horan told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
“The key to it all is that I would like them to come back with three proposals. To come back with one proposal, and were it to fall, would not serve any great purpose. The indication I will be giving them is to come in with three proposals because there is a debate out there whether provincial championships should survive or not survive.
“That will be a decision taken by the membership of the organisation at Congress 2020, but, in the meantime, that offer has to be put on the table. Everything is on the table. The people on the group will have ideas towards solving the problem, not opinions on the problem.
“There are lots of people out there with opinions on the problem, but when they take the whole complex nature of it into account they don't necessarily have the simple solutions. So this committee is going to be given the opportunity to come in with whatever proposals, I'm not tying anybody's hands behind their back.”
What will influence any new fixtures calendar drawn up by the Sullivan-led committee is a two-tier All-Ireland senior football championship which Horan is hoping will be green-lighted at a Special Congress later this year. What would certainly be a source of frustration to the new committee is if their work over the summer months is made redundant by a new football landscape taking shape in the autumn, forcing the group to start again.
“There is an appetite out there within the organisation for us to go ahead with a tier two championship. Now is the time to grab that when the appetite is out there,” Horan continued.
“If you look at the Qualifier draw we have made, you can see a large number of Division Three and Four teams already in there. So our hope would be, at the next Central Council meeting in June, to bring forward a proposal to look at the introduction of a tier two championship for those teams in Division Three and Four. If we do, we will call a Special Congress in September or October to have a look at putting this forward for next year.”
Connacht GAA president Gerry McGovern is firmly behind a two-tier All-Ireland SFC but is adamant the provincial competitions remain a staple element of the championship. Writing in the Mayo-Roscommon match programme, McGovern remarked that “the Connacht championship to date hasn’t provided any compelling contests, and the winning margin in the games already played would indicate there is a gulf in standard and strengthens the argument for a change to the All-Ireland series as it presently stands.
“It also indicates that following their first-round appearance in the provincial championships, the defeated teams would be better served by a competition in which they would compete at their own level. As it stands, they head into the qualifiers hoping for a kind draw to save them from further heavy defeats. Now, more than ever, we need a change to the structure of the All-Ireland championship series.”
Meanwhile, Horan has suggested that further incidences of managers encroaching the field of play, as did Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald at Pearse Stadium on Sunday before being sent to the stand, could lead to tighter sideline regulations.
“If people interfere with the actual play, there is a disciplinary process. You can see one of the people already that encroached on the pitch was dealt with quite swiftly within that discipline process. If this becomes more common, we might have to look at changing things to make sure we can reduce its instance. It is certainly something I would condemn. I don't think it adds to the games as a spectacle.”
Irish Examiner columnist and former hurling referee Brian Gavin believes Fitzgerald will be suspended from taking up station on the sideline for the remainder of the summer.