‘Can we change the geography of GAA competitions?’

Donegal chairman Mick McGrath says there is unlikely to be much “want” in Ulster to change the composition of the province’s senior football championship but accepts the All-Ireland SFC structure is “broken”.

‘Can we change the geography of GAA competitions?’

Donegal chairman Mick McGrath says there is unlikely to be much “want” in Ulster to change the composition of the province’s senior football championship but accepts the All-Ireland SFC structure is “broken”.

Two of the three new championship proposals include recommendations to change the number of teams in the province’s blue riband competition.

The four provincial conferences of eight would mean one of the nine counties loses out while the “National League Format for Championship” would see the provinces move to spring and Ulster pick up an extra county to be split into two groups of five.

McGrath accepts the structure of the competition is broken and bemoans what is expected of Declan Bonner’s side in terms of preparation ahead of facing Tyrone in an Ulster quarter-final on May 17.

However, he envisages there will be a lack of appetite within Ulster to amend what has proven to be the most competitive province this past decade.

“The Ulster championship is still a great honour to win. It mightn’t be for Kerry in Munster or Dublin in Leinster (to win a provincial title) but that’s because they have become so strong. You could see Dublin winning 12 to 15 Leinster championships in a row and the great Kerry team only had a blip or two in their time. It is broken, that’s the bottom line. We had to go with the majority and they would say it’s not structured correctly now.

“Ulster championships are not easily won and we’re out against Tyrone on May 17 and that means we have to be peaking at the beginning of May.

Tied

“The League ends at the end of March and we have four weeks probably to get ready and our hands are tied now as our county players must play football with their clubs all the way through April. The team can only come together exclusively 10 days beforehand.

“Can you imagine me turning around to the county manager (Bonner) and saying, ‘You can come together on the 7th (of May) and start preparing for Tyrone.’ It’s ludicrous that anybody would contemplate me saying it.

“There’s no uniformity in the geography and we can’t change the geography of the provinces but can we change the geography of the competitions? That’s what it boils down to. There wouldn’t be want for it in Ulster and without discussing it yet in Donegal there wouldn’t be want for it in Donegal.” McGrath himself suggests the GAA might have to move away entirely from the provincial pillars to put together an equitable championship system. He also believes attempts to do so are fraught with difficulty.

“If they were coming out with a new competition structure… we supported the two grades and there was tweaking to be done. But if something diminishes the Ulster championship, we’re still coming back to 7,000 to 10,000 people in Donegal town after winning one. That’s what it means. Dublin just go home for their dinner afterwards but that’s not what it is up here.

“We can’t make the GAA totally equal around the country — we can’t do it. The country and Association is not designed that way. Sometimes we have to stop and say, ‘We’re not going to do that.’

“The pride Leitrim people had walking up and down Jones Road before their Division 4 final this year was something to behold. The League was there for them to have their day and it didn’t matter if they won, drew, or lost.

“But the more you try to fix things like counties getting equal representation playing in Croke Park the bigger mess you will be making. There will always be stronger counties and as a barman once said to me it doesn’t matter how you pour a pint of Guinness the cream will always rise to the top.

“You can knock your head against the wall as much as you want but the All-Ireland will come from within six counties in hurling and six counties in football next year. That’s a fact.

“No matter how much you change things at the lower level, that’s going to be the case.”

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