GAA Director General Paraic Duffy believes successes like Limerick’s in the Munster Hurling Championship and Monaghan’s in the Ulster Football Championship prove the validity of the current provincial structures.
Duffy was a spectator in Clones on Sunday to see Monaghan end a 25-year wait to win Ulster title. And although there are plenty of alternative views on how the Sam Maguire and Liam MacCarthy Cups should be contested, Duffy is content with the status quo.
“I’ve always felt that we should keep the provincial championships,” he said. “For Monaghan players and supporters, that was a huge goal itself, to win a provincial title. People who say ‘get rid of the championships’ don’t get it — you tell anyone in Monaghan or in Limerick it doesn’t matter.
“There is not an awful lot wrong with the present system. There are probably teams who aren’t good enough to compete, but it’s a very small number. Those counties want to be a part of it and want to compete. If you have any other system, say with eight groups of four, you’d have far more mismatches than with the current system. I still believe we should retain the provincial championships in tandem with the qualifier system.”
With the Tommy Murphy Cup, a competition for the eight teams who finished in the lowest positions in the league unless they made it to their respective provincial final, now defunct since 2008, there have been suggestions to introduce a tiered competition at junior and intermediate level.
“Counties didn’t buy into it,” Duffy continued of the new proposals.
“Take Cavan, Monaghan or London, none of them would have qualified for the senior, so they wouldn’t be here in the last 12 or the last eight. Sport has to be about the romance, about the small guy having his day. Monaghan didn’t win an Ulster from 1938 to 1979 and then 1988, which is only three in 75 years. You have to have that hope. Most counties get their day.”
Whilst Croke Park hasn’t seen a pitch invasion after a final since 2009, there were scenes of jubilation after the provincial finals at both the Gaelic Grounds and Clones in the last fortnight.
“The reason for us saying no to pitch invasions was because it’s a health and safety issue,” he said. “Last Sunday in Croke Park you had 32,000 people, the week before in Limerick you had 40,000, but in Croke Park you have potential for 80,000 people to come onto the pitch. It’s a bigger issue in Croke Park. This isn’t a GAA crusade. It was done in Croke Park on Garda advice.
“It is dangerous. The other problem in Croke Park is that when people come onto the pitch they all go out onto Jones Road again. That’s what brought it to a head, where people were coming out there and pushing in different directions.”
Duffy was a spectator at St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge on Saturday evening for Tyrone’s third round qualifier win over Kildare, where match referee Joe McQuillan was jostled and heckled by supporters as he made his way to the dressing rooms in the stand.
“We should hold our hands up on that, the referee part,” Duffy said.
“You could have gone somewhere else for a bigger crowd, but in fairness to Kildare they have made improvements.
“What happened on Saturday night underlined that there is an issue in Newbridge and that will certainly have to be addressed before it’s used for a big game again. It doesn’t mean it can’t be used, but the issue of a referee’s safety is not acceptable.
“You can say that it was a Kildare venue, but it was a Central Council fixture so the onus is on us to look at what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Duffy, who also confirmed the All-Ireland quarter-finals will be double-headers played on Saturday, August 3, and Sunday, August 4, at 2pm and 4pm, was speaking at the official launch of the All-Ireland Football Championship in Glenswilly, the home club of Donegal’s All-Ireland winning captain, Michael Murphy.
Last year’s All-Ireland champions are now facing into a fourth round qualifier against Laois. That scheduling initially brought a clash with two ladies’ qualifiers, Donegal against Westmeath and Clare versus Kildare, which were also pencilled in for Páirc Seán MacDiarmada on Saturday.
However, all three matches will now take place at the Carrick-on-Shannon venue after the misunderstanding was cleared up with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association.
“There are no red faces in Croke Park about this,” Duffy said. “My understanding is that the ladies’ committee contacted the Leitrim County Board about the availability of Carrick-on-Shannon and Leitrim said it would be available.
“They never went back to them and they certainly never said anything to us. It highlights something in terms of communication.
“The two games are still being played in Carrick-on-Shannon. We need to know what they’re doing.”
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