Jim Gavin has called for the National Football League to be scrapped as part of his vision for a new inter-county calendar.
The Dublin boss believes the game’s secondary competition has “served its purpose” and would prefer to see the Championship extended to a Champions League format as the guarantee of two games is not enough for players.
Gavin also wants the club championships given their own slot in the calendar from September onwards following the conclusion of inter-county activity.
Those views are similar to those expressed by Jim McGuinness in September when he argued clubs should have an exclusive section of the year set aside.
But it’s Gavin’s remarks about ending the league, which will draw most attention. He wants it replaced by the provincial championships with an extended All-Ireland series taking up the summer.
“I think it’s unacceptable that you’re giving teams that prepare for six months of the year potentially two games,” said Gavin.
“That’s not acceptable and I can understand how players would get frustrated.
“There’s no reason why we can’t give incentives for teams to do well in the provincial championships who reach the previous year’s final and get seeded.
“There’s different models you can look at but I like the provincial games. Go to any provincial final and there’s great passion in those games and I think it would be folly to get rid of them.
“I think the National League might have served its purpose and we could move on to a new, group-based Championship system.”
Gavin elaborated on the annoyance among players about the inter-county calendar as it stands. “It’s not frustrating for me; it’s frustrating for players to be placed under those demands at the start of the season — to commence with a sprint when pitches aren’t in great condition. They’re only starting off their campaign for the year and to be playing U21 — I know there’s only a small cadre doing that — Sigerson and there’s a lot of league games played over the February-March-April period.”
Quizzed about the lack of appetite for round robin games in the GAA, Gavin responded: “Isn’t that always the case, with the current format? The competition only picks momentum up as you get towards the back end of the competition, but I’m sure in the group stage format you propose, there could be some scenarios where teams need to win a game to qualify for their knockout phase against a team in a different group.
“The format mightn’t just be you play the teams within your own group. We see it in American sports, in NFL, where you can cross into various conferences … there’s various models that can be looked at, but my view on it would be that there has to be more games given at a Championship level for teams. It’s just not acceptable to have just two games in the current season.”
There have been suggestions about splitting the Championship into two seeded groups of 16. Gavin likes the idea but is mindful he’s speaking from a Dublin viewpoint. “I think there’s merit in that, but I’d be very reluctant to get on my soapbox and preach that from a Dublin perspective, where we might be perceived to be one of the stronger teams.
“I would certainly advocate to have a competition where teams can have a realistic expectation to get to a final, but again I’d be hesitant from the position I would hold to preach that to teams that mightn’t have a realistic chance of getting to an All-Ireland final. But there’s an awful lot of merit in what you say, absolutely.”
Gavin appreciates the measures he is backing would represent radical change but sees the forthcoming Football Review Committee-endorsed motion proposing the Central Competitions Control Committee taking control of all county and club game scheduling as key to it.
“It is all about empowerment, It is all about giving them the power to coordinate all of it, all of the organisations within the association, from the higher education to the provincial councils to Croke Park coordinating the All-Ireland series, but having a provincial series and All-Ireland series would make imminent sense and I think supporters would buy into it. You would also need time there for club players and I know the FRC have looked at building gaps into the programme because that is our lifeblood.
“The challenge first is to accommodate the fact that we have two sports competing, hurling and Gaelic football. That is another challenge that has to be faced but I can’t see a reason why we can’t start the season in February/March and have it finished by mid-August and have the rest of the year for the conclusion of club competitions.”
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