Connacht GAA secretary John Prenty has said it would be “dangerous” to vote through either of the two football championship proposals at Special Congress this Saturday.
Prenty, a member of the fixture calendar review task force that drew up the two proposals to reform the All-Ireland SFC, is adamant there are better options than the four conferences of eight and the league as championship recommendations.
He said the “unintended consequences” associated with the league-based All-Ireland SFC haven’t been fully debated and are so numbered that a more satisfactory proposal can and must be conceived.
Prenty’s preference is for players, Croke Park officials, provincial councils, and the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) to sit down together over the coming months and devise a football championship blueprint to go before Congress next spring that remedies the problems that exist at present.
Although fully accepting of the need for reform, the Connacht chief insisted that change for the sake of change this Saturday is “dangerous”.
In this newspaper last Saturday, Cork GAA CEO Kevin O’Donovan, a fellow member of the task force, called on counties to embrace the spirit of the league as championship proposal. He added that all necessary tweaks can be looked at in time.
It is an approach Prenty would not be in favour of.
“Having been to a lot of Congresses, once you bring something in, it is very hard to change it. It is like deciding you are going to build your house, you get planning permission, and then the architect tells you that this will need fixing in a few years time. Why not fix it before you start,” reasoned Prenty.
During a Croke Park meeting with county chairpersons on Monday evening, former GAA president John Horan suggested a two-year trial period for the league-based championship in 2023 and 2024, the year’s delay allowing for adjustments to be made to the proposal between Saturday’s Special Congress and Congress 2022 next February.
But again, Prenty has reservations.
“It all depends on what you are tweaking? There are better options out there. I have heard various examples of them in recent weeks from other people.
“We need further discussion between the main stakeholders - the players, the Central Competitions Control Committee, the four provincial councils, and the officers in Croke Park - so as to look at the options taking care of all these stakeholders and to come up with the best competition structure we can come up with.
“It would be very dangerous to buy a pig in a poke on Saturday,” the Connacht chief warned.
“There is change needed. The provincial championships that are there aren’t perfect, the All-Ireland series isn’t perfect. We need change, but we need the right change.”
Among the unintended consequences associated with the league as championship proposal, according to the provincial council secretary, is the fact that half of the teams in Division 1 and 2 (the bottom three in Division 1 and bottom five in Division 2) will not play a single knockout championship fixture; the Tailteann Cup winners do not gain entry into the All-Ireland series the following season; and counties who reach the All-Ireland semi-final or Tailteann Cup final will end up playing 10 games in 13 weeks.
“It has also been said that Proposal B will deliver more summer football. In actual fact, we don’t get any more summer football because by the time you get to June 18, there are only 25% of the teams left.”
Moreover, there are financial consequences arising from the League-based proposal which gives the Connacht secretary further cause for concern.
Between 2009 and 2019, Connacht GAA took in an annual average of €51,476 in gate receipts from the FBD League and €841,950 from the Connacht SFC. If the link between the provincial championships and All-Ireland series is severed by Proposal B receiving the required 60% backing on Saturday, Prenty fears a Connacht championship played “in the bad weather in February and March” will deliver a gate receipts total closer to their annual intake from the FBD pre-season competition than what they pocket from the provincial championship in May and June.
Less gate receipts income means less funding available for the various units in the province, including the ground development grant, for which almost €1m has been handed out by Connacht GAA over the past decade.
So while Prenty repeatedly stresses the improvements brought about by proposals put forward by the task force he sat on in 2019, including the creation of a fixture oversight committee, the removal of the All-Ireland U20 hurling semi-finals, and the split season, he urges caution on their football proposals.
“We have waited for so long, it is no harm to wait for another few months.”
Kerry and Laois’ Special Congress delegations, meanwhile, will decide on the day whether they vote in favour of the League-based All-Ireland SFC proposal.