Friday 26 May 2017

Going through the motions: GAA facing big decisions on several key issues at next week's Congress

Major championship changes could be on their way after next weekend's Congress

GAA director general Paraic Duffy and president Aogán Ó Fearghail, right, at last year’s briefing on the ‘Proposal on the format of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship’, which will be voted on next week. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
GAA director general Paraic Duffy and president Aogán Ó Fearghail, right, at last year’s briefing on the ‘Proposal on the format of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship’, which will be voted on next week. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Changing the format of the football championships, playing both All-Ireland senior finals in August and using extra-time rather than replays are the main discussion points for next weekend's Congress, which will also choose a GAA president-elect from five candidates.

The following are the most important proposals on the agenda:

PROPOSAL: Replace the senior football quarter-finals with a 'round robin', featuring two groups of four on a three-season trial basis. Top two in each group to reach semi-finals, which will be played over one weekend. (Central Council).

IMPACT: It provides eight extra games among the last eight in the All-Ireland race. With each county playing three games - one at home - it would help ensure that the four best teams reached the semi-final, something that doesn't always happen now. It allows provincial winners to lose a game without necessarily being eliminated from the All-Ireland, which doesn't apply under the existing format. Playing the semi-finals over the one weekend would generate massive excitement and also give both finalists the same lead-in time to the final.

GOOD OR BAD IDEA? Given the many problems with the championship structure, fresh ideas are always worthwhile so proceeding with the experiment is worth a shot. The format has merits, as outlined above, but carries concerns too. A county, which may have already lost in the provincial championships, could lose one and draw one of their three 'round robin' games and still qualify for the All-Ireland semi-finals. That doesn't seem quite right. The proposal offers nothing new for 24 counties, despite growing unease over the championship format in recent years.

PROSPECTS: It needs a two-thirds majority, which is ridiculous for an experiment over competition structures. Winning 67 of 100 votes is a tough target but since it carries the full support of Central Council, which has 32-county representation, the chances of it being accepted are quite good.

* * * * *

PROPOSAL: Play both the All-Ireland senior hurling and football finals on or before the last Sunday in August.

IMPACT: It would leave September free for county championship action. That would be welcomed by clubs, which are frustrated by the haphazard nature of the fixture programmes in many counties.

GOOD OR BAD IDEA? Seriously bad. The earlier completion of the championships would hand over the promotional landscape to soccer and rugby much earlier than is wise or necessary. September All-Ireland finals are not the reason for club fixture problems, so Central Council would be better advised to address that rather than meddling with long-established dates.

PROSPECTS: A proposal to bring the football and hurling finals back by a week received 61 per cent backing last year, six per cent short of the required two- thirds majority. This year's motion calls for even earlier finals so it's likely to be a very close vote. Those planning to support it should reflect on the promotional loss it will cause.

* * * * *

PROPOSAL: Other than provincial finals and All-Ireland finals, play extra-time in all championship games that finish level in normal time.

IMPACT: It would eliminate replays, which are causing problems for club fixtures.

GOOD OR BAD IDEA? Good. In fact, it should be extended to include provincial finals.

PROSPECTS: Provincial councils won't like it, not least because of the financial implications, so it could struggle to get a two-thirds majority.

* * * * *

PROPOSAL: Replace Round 1 of the football qualifiers with a 'round robin' featuring four groups of four, with the top two in each group advancing to the next round. (Laois)

IMPACT: It would guarantee teams eliminated early on in the provinces three qualifiers games as opposed to one.

GOOD OR BAD IDEA? Since it involves 24 games, there's a serious risk of 'dead rubbers', which would damage the championship.

PROSPECTS: It may not even be discussed if the 'round robin' proposal for the last eight in the championship is successful. Either way, it has little chance of being accepted.

* * * * *

PROPOSAL: Bring forward Round 1 of the football qualifiers to the first weekend in June. (Carlow)

IMPACT: It shortens the gap between provincial elimination and qualifier entry.

GOOD OR BAD IDEA? It makes sense.

PROSPECTS: There will be objections to locking it into the rule book.

* * * * *

PROPOSAL: Reduce the majority required to change a rule at Congress from two-thirds (66.6 per cent) to three-fifths (60 per cent). (Down, Longford, Westmeath).

Reduce the majority required to change a rule at Congress from two-thirds to half. (Leitrim, Tipperary).

IMPACT: It would end the situation which emerges quite often, whereby motions that receive sizeable majorities - often over 60 per cent - are rejected, leading to claims that democracy is being usurped.

GOOD OR BAD IDEA? A change makes perfect sense. Reducing the requirement to 60pc is hardly a radical move.

PROSPECTS: There's no chance that the simple majority proposal will be accepted. The 60 per cent proposal was rejected in 2006 and 2010 and despite being underpinned by clear logic, it could happen again.

* * * * *

PROPOSAL: Allow Galway's minor, U-21 and intermediate hurling teams to compete in the Leinster Championship (Galway)

IMPACT: This is a bid by Galway for full integration into Leinster, having had their seniors play there since 2009.

It comes against a background where Leinster don't want Galway's underage teams in their championship because of their strength. There's also friction over the refusal of Leinster counties to play any senior games in Galway.

GOOD OR BAD IDEA? It should be all or nothing for Galway in Leinster.

PROSPECTS: This motion, which is now having its validity questioned by Leinster, has huge implications well beyond Galway's underage teams. If it goes to a vote, Connacht, Ulster and Munster counties will, in effect, be telling Leinster how to run their championships, something all three provinces would sternly resist if it applied to them. Galway's case is perfectly understandable as they want full county integration with Leinster, rather than merely being guests for the senior championship.

PROSPECTS: A Congress vote is not the best way to solve this dilemma, which has the potential to be dangerously divisive. Even if the motion is deemed in order, I would expect some compromise to emerge so as to avoid a vote. How about a Special Congress to deal with the hurling championship later in the year?

* * * * *

PROPOSAL: Allow the GPA to bring one motion to Congress each year (Central Council)

IMPACT: It would increase the GPA's access to decision-making.

GOOD OR BAD IDEA? Good

PROSPECTS? Very good

* * * * *

PROPOSAL: Grant official recognition to the Club Players' Association (Wexford, Tipperary)

IMPACT: The newly-formed CPA argues that despite being launched only six weeks ago, they should be given similar status to the GPA, on the basis that they represent 98 per cent of players.

GOOD OR BAD IDEA? The CPA will have to prove itself before gaining official recognition. It took the GPA several years to earn official status and while the CPA journey may be shorter, they will need to be patient.

PROSPECTS: Wexford and Tipperary will make a good case but there's little chance of his motion getting a two-thirds majority.

* * * * *

PROPOSAL: Level a charge of 'discrediting the Association' against players, managements or referees who are found to have gambled on a game in which they are involved.

IMPACT: It comes at a time where there's growing concern in the world of sport over betting. Other sports have rules on gambling and the GAA are now planning to join them.

GOOD OR BAD IDEA?: Good, but how enforceable is it?

PROSPECTS: It will come close to winning 100 per cent support.

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