League finals survive for now but more calendar reform on the way

On Saturday, Central Council chose to retain the four deciders after an option to disband them was put forward by the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC).
League finals survive for now but more calendar reform on the way

3 April 2022; David Clifford of Kerry lifts the cup after the Allianz Football League Division 1 Final match between Kerry and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

The Allianz League football finals will continue into 2023 and possibly beyond but the conversation about further inter-county calendar reform has begun.

On Saturday, Central Council chose to retain the four deciders after an option to disband them was put forward by the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC).

It was their contention that the finals are no longer being taken seriously as before and with provincial championship preliminary rounds scheduled to take place a week later some lower divisional teams risked no break between the competitions.

The proposal prompted strong debate at the meeting in Croke Park with promotion and finance being mentioned in the arguments for keeping them and eventually the motion was lost. Nevertheless, the debate could foreshadow changes to the structure of the Allianz Football Leagues with them possibly being broken into different or smaller groups as a means of reducing some of the schedule’s intensity.

Next year will see each county play a minimum of 11 games between league and championship – seven in the league and four in the SFC. All but eight counties will play at least 12. An Ulster county drawn in the preliminary round of the province could have as many as 19 matches in the space of 26 weeks – eight in the league, four in Ulster, three in the qualifier round-robins and four in the knock-out stages.

Of the leading Sam Maguire Cup teams, Dublin could play as many as 10 championship fixtures and Kerry nine – Jack O’Connor’s side played five times in winning this past summer’s All-Ireland.

There is a growing belief among some officials that the league needs to be cut by a couple of games to alleviate the condensed season, while the competition has required a refresh for some time. Such changes would impact the qualification criteria for the Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cups and require rule amendments.

To reflect the additional games in the Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cups next season, the All-Ireland finals have been pushed back so that the football decider will now take place on July 30. That recommendation by the CCCC required Central Council support as the GAA Official Guide states the finals must be staged by the 30th Sunday of the year, which is July 24 in 2023.

Also agreed on Saturday was a return to collective training on November 24. Annual Congress has been brought forward by a week in order not to clash with football league games. The Joe McDonagh Cup final will be played alongside the U20 hurling final instead of the Leinster decider as was the case last year.

There was disappointing but expected news at Central Council about the GAA’s coaching and development funding model with delegates informed that the distribution of the €12 million is delayed indefinitely. The monies were due to be distributed on October 1 but as the Irish Examiner reported last week there have been major difficulties with the implementation of the initiative.

Details have also emerged about the options regarding the under-age structures. One of the choices expected to be offered is a return to U18 across the board but no U18s permitted to play at adult club level. Another is the retention of the current U17 grade with at least one more age grade prior to senior. Counties are also to be given the option of reverting to U18 locally but their requests would be subject to Croke Park approval. All three options decouple under-age from adult level.

The under-age fixtures taskforce is strongly in favour of U17 being retained at inter-county level and a new U19 grade being introduced and replacing U20. A vote on what has become a contentious topic, particularly rurally, will take place at Annual Congress in February.

Meanwhile, former President of Ireland Mary McAleese has been appointed the independent chair of the integration process between the GAA, Ladies Gaelic Football Association and Camogie Association.

A process which is expected to take years, President McAleese will be assisted by Mark Dorman, who has been appointed project manager. A timeline on discussions with the three organisations will be set out in the coming weeks.

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