GPA president Dermot Earley has admitted surprise but welcomed the GAA’s u-turn on plans to increase the number of games in the All-Ireland championship.
Earley stopped short of fully endorsing GAA director- general Páraic Duffy’s recommendation to turn the All-Ireland quarter-finals into two round robin groups of four and revealed the official players’ body will put forward their own blueprint to Congress in February.
Earlier this year, the GPA’s original proposal to change the structure of the competition never made it to Congress as Central Council took the recommendation from the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) that it set out more matches and didn’t include a “B” championship.
The Kildare man is at a loss to explain why the GAA authorities have altered their thinking. “I don’t know. I’m not being smart but I don’t know. That was the criteria that was laid down by the CCCC for that — they wanted no extra games and they wanted a second tier competition and that’s why ours was shot down. Now they’ve gone the complete opposite so maybe it’s a realisation at top level that ‘hold on, that actual criteria is not going to work, but this criteria will’.”
Earley can see a lot of pluses to the Duffy proposal while hinting weaker counties require more matches. “I’m delighted to see that the GAA has put one out there. It is quite a good structure. You’re going to make an All-Ireland series, a group stage. It should be very exciting. The fact that games are not all in Croke Park — that’s something we’re all crying out for. We want to see the provincial venues being used because the atmosphere of a match in a provincial venue with 30,000 is way better than Croke Park.” Regarding the opposition to a “B” championship from weaker counties, Earley continued: “I think an inter-county player, with the time that it takes from your personal life to be a player at that level, I think everybody deserves their shot at the top. Growing up as footballers, from the first time you kicked a ball, it was all about winning Sam Maguire and that’s what I think is probably important and I suppose that’s why there’s a little bit of opposition to it.”
As part of their new framework agreement with the GAA, the GPA are guaranteed a motion will be put to Congress and Earley confirmed it will come in the way of their own championship restructure. “Our own proposal didn’t make it to the floor of Congress. One of the criticisms was that there were more games. They were saying that there was dead rubber games. When we presented it, we said it wasn’t the be-all and end-all. We were willing to tinker with it a bit more.
“And we will look at a proposal. We will present another proposal to Congress. When you take in everything that has been put before us and everything that is said, hopefully we can find something that is right. If we don’t find it, maybe we can combine with others and get the best. But the championship does need a structuring.”
Earley insists the entire association must be better briefed on the football championship proposals than they were earlier this year.
“The most important thing, no matter what you do, you have to educate the general public and the GAA before this goes to Congress. You can’t have a proposal coming up at Congress and getting 10 minutes of a debate and then a vote. People have to know exactly the ins and outs of the proposal.
“The main thing is, there is an appetite for change. If you took the current GAA structure and presented it now, you’d be laughed at. It’s not fair. It’s a shorter season for one team, a longer season for another. If you’re an Ulster team, you have to play more games to win an All-Ireland than in Munster — that is not fair. It needs to change.
“The provincial structure is what I think is holding (back) a restructuring of the championship. People want the provincial structures to stay... whether you connect them to the All-Ireland series or not? That’s the big decision.”
As with the GPA’s original recommendation, questions are now being asked about Duffy’s proposal and whether it goes far enough in helping out club players. Although the GPA’s one suggested considerably more inter-county championship games, Earley maintains it was fair on clubs.
“The GPA proposal is very conscious of the club player, in that we have a gap every three weeks in order to play a club match throughout the championship so it would allow the club player to have a match every three weeks. Unfortunately, it didn’t allow the county player to train with their club for the three weeks because of the ongoing (county) season, but I think that can be managed. And I think that the control that the managers (have) at the moment to cut out all club matches is probably not helping the situation and needs to be addressed.”
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