The GAA have yet to decide if counties who chose not to play in the new second tier football championship will be punished.
Both GAA president John Horan and director general Tom Ryan said it is incumbent on the organisation to ensure the new competitions doesn’t suffer the same fate as the similar Tommy Murphy Cup, which lasted for five years in the mid-2000s.
From 2020, those 16 teams who are confirmed as Division 3 and 4 counties at the end of the competition will enter the new secondary competition unless they reach their respective provincial final.
Several concerns about the profile of the competition were raised in Special Congress on Saturday, with the likes of Antrim and Carlow fearing similar assurances about marketing and promotion were given about the Joe McDonagh Cup but were never delivered.
Close to the vote and perhaps in an attempt to appease some delegates, Horan revealed that a Croke Park staff member had received a text message from RTÉ Head of Sport DeclanMcBennett that he was confident there would be live coverage of the new competition.
Almost 76% of delegates backed the motion and Horan knows the GAA must ensure it works. He admitted he had not yet considered what might happen to counties who chose not to play in the competition despite their being incentives for winning it such as entry to the qualifiers the following season Horan continued: “We’ve a responsibility to make sure it works because 75% of Congress have asked for it to work, so that responsibility rests with us to deliver it from a marketing and interest point of view.”
Ryan, who added that the sponsors of counties who reach the second tier final may be given more exposure in Croke Park on the day, highlighted that 2019 was a good year for football but the GAA had to realise there was an appetite for tiers.
“We all agreed that as an Association this time last year or even farther back that football needed some remedial attention and needed to be freshened up. Maybe, having looked at how great it was over the course of the last summer, these issues were less pressing than we might have thought but just as it would have been a mistake to write off football based on one bad year, it would equally be a mistake to say that we don’t need to freshen it up based on one really good year.
“The good thing about what we did today was that there was nothing revolutionary in it. If you’re in Tier 2 and you’re good enough Championship-wise, you still have a route through the Tier 1 competition so it’s not closing any doors to anyone if they’re good enough. It’s certainly going to be a talking point in the next few months.”
Rather than hampering the fixtures review committee as some like the Gaelic Players Association and the Club Players Association suggest it will do, Horan feels this development will empower the group he commissioned earlier this year. “If they are going to come forward with proposals as regards to fixtures and they have a tier two in it, they know there is an acceptance within the organisation to go for a Tier 2, so that just gives them a bit of a surer footing.”
There remains a possibility the second tier championship final could be played before the All-Ireland final in the future. Former GAA president Nickey Brennan raised the matter, highlighting U17 development finals were not appropriate as curtain-raisers on such big days. Horan remarked: “That’s a discussion that needs to happen. One of the reasons not pushing it out to All-Ireland final day is the impact it would have on the clubs.”
It was a good day for Horan who had aimed for a tiered football championship on taking office and there are positive movements in his bid to curb the influence of development teams as a talent academy programme is rolled out to counties, which aims to restore the club’s prominence in the career of the player.
Former Tyrone chairman Ciarán McLaughlin and former Cork senior football manager Brian Cuthbert gave a presentation to delegates about the proposals which are looking at a standardisation of under-age levels — U13, U15, U17 — across the board. In time, the U19 may be the first All-Ireland that players can participate in.
Ryan commented: “Brian (Cuthbert) asked why do we condition all our thinking and our structures around the 1% when 99% of all of us don’t get into that particular sphere up there, we revert back into the club so we should condition our thinking and our structures around what the 99% of people need, so I think it’s going to revolutionise things. actually.”
The report also calls for three new central appointments per county: player pathway manager, coach education manager and performance science manager. None are paid roles.
Meanwhile, Ryan was asked about the financial difficulties being experienced by Galway and Mayo. “I have concerns about the finances of every county really. Counties, all the time, face financial pressures with the amount of investment required of everybody to keep county teams functioning. That’s one of the challenges that we all have and that applies in every single county.
“In terms of those two specific ones, we’ll do our best and we’ll provide assistance and we are doing so in those two counties. The disappointing part of it is the bits of it that have been played out in public.
“That makes it difficult and raises the tensions but I have no doubt but that they’ll get themselves right.”
Earlier on Saturday, Central Council voted to return the U20 All-Ireland football championship to a spring schedule meaning there could be the opportunity for U20 players to also line out for their senior teams later in the year.