The determination of provincial councils to retain the present structure of the All-Ireland SFC is “the elephant in the room” that needs to be tackled in order to bring about competition change, according to GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell.
In unveiling the GPA’s proposals for a significant restructuring of the All-Ireland SFC, Farrell questioned the fairness of the present system and was critical of the training-to-games ratio it creates.
The GPA chief was adamant there was no appetite among players for a second tier championship and while not wholly supportive of the provincial structure, he said they realised “the political reality” that to exclude it would see their submission binned long before next year’s Congress.
At the centre of their proposal is the scrapping of the qualifier system to be replaced by eight groups of four, whereby every county, upon completion of the provincial championships, would play three games. Then 24 of the 32 counties would progress to the knockout stages of the All-Ireland series. The 2015 championship threw up 63 games, whereas the GPA’s blueprint would see the number of matches rise to at least 100.
“The training to games ratio is positively impacted and conservative estimates show the new system would generate €1.7m for the association (€700k through gate receipts, €500k through sponsorship and €500k through media rights),” Farrell asserted.
The player representative body advocates abolishing pre-season competitions and the league semi-finals and finals, with the winners based on the final standings after round seven.Likely to garner strong opposition from provincial top-brass is their suggestion to commence the provincial championships in mid-April and to play the four finals on the one weekend in mid-May. With their calendar affording the provincial finalists a two-week lay-off leading in to the fixture, the GPA are effectively proposing running off the preliminary round, quarter and semi-finals in Munster, Connacht, Ulster and Leinster in the space of three weeks.
“There are numerous sacred cows that will have to be tackled and challenged,” he accepted. “It is the elephant in the room how the provincial councils are going to react or respond to any proposal submitted. There will undoubtedly be challenges there. I would be appealing to people’s better judgment and common sense.
“There is no downside unless the provincial authorities feel their control is being eroded slightly. Because it won’t impact on funding and that is always a big issue. If anything, funding levels will be enhanced. This will be more to do with control. They are free to run those competitions as they see fit, but what we are saying is that they have to be condensed into a period of time for the overall program to work.
“What we would love to see is for the GAA to take a bold step, don’t tweak around the edges and do something meaningful. You are still going to have your national league, you are still going to have your provincial championships and you are still going to have an All-Ireland winner at the end of the year. If it doesn’t work out at the end of two-years, it is no huge, huge loss. But by being courageous, you could come across something that is quite powerful and has a profound and positive impact on the game.”
The four provincial winners receive top seeding for the All-Ireland series group stages, with the four remaining places determined by league standings. The opening round of group games would kick-off on the first weekend in June. The format would see the top seeded teams given home advantage over second seeds. As an incentive to the fourth-seeded teams, they would enjoy home advantage when they face the top seeds.
Group winners advance directly to the last 16, while second and third placed counties meet in the preliminary round. With no replays in either the preliminary round, last 16 or quarter-finals, deadlocked teams would kick five frees from the ’45 if a fixture was still level after two 10-minute and two five-minute extra-time periods.
The four quarter-finals would be played in the space of 24 hours, as would the semi-finals (one Saturday, one Sunday). Their recommendation is that the final is brought forward to the first weekend of September with the hurling decider moved to August.
With the GPA’s proposed calendar showing five less weekends of championship action by comparison with 2015, Farrell insists club player negligence is resolved.
“24 counties are free three consecutive weekends in May for club activity. Eight counties are free to complete their club programme from July 3. 24 counties are free from July 17. That is a significant window for the club programme. Also, all managers must agree to this programme in their manager’s charter at the start of the year.
“I think it will take discussion, dialogue and possibly some confrontation at various times. We need to reach a tipping point where common sense prevails. What we have at the minute is not working.” The GPA are expecting feedback on their proposal from Croke Park top-brass in mid-November.
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