Middle-tier counties will gain most from small step forward
Published 05/08/2016 | 02:30
The truest words included in Páraic Duffy's proposals for change in the All-Ireland championship are: "This seeks to present a modest adjustment to the championship format."
Many GAA people will rush in to say that it is too modest but they don't understand GAA politics if that is their view.
The GAA undertakes change only in minute stages and this is a perfect example. The only really dramatic change was when Seán Kelly steamrolled the motion to open Croke Park for other sports.
After all, this proposal would be only the second one of significance regarding the All-Ireland series, along with the arrival of the qualifiers, since 1884.
Is it welcome? Of course it is. Any change in the current championship is very welcome. Is it significant? Modestly significant perhaps.
Duffy has spent a lifetime discussing GAA matters with all sorts of GAA people, from officials to players and even the lads on barstools.
The director-general, who listens to everyone, has one mantra that he uses to telling effect when he asks, 'You give me a better way of doing things than what we have now', which is often followed by silence.
The changes may appear modest but they will please a lot of people.
There will be more games in the final third of the All-Ireland series to be played down the country, at home and away venues and in Croke Park for counties that may rarely play there. It would involve only eight extra county games from at present.
The concept of playing round- robins in the championship will be established and all the GPA people will love that. No doubt they and others will see this as a step towards the Champions League format that so many crave.
Provincial champions would be granted a home venue for their next game which will please Killarney traders at least and will bring possible huge games to Ulster and Connacht that were never there up to now. Kerry playing Tyrone in Ulster for example!
The biggest inequalities in the Sam Maguire race are caused by the odd numbers in the four provinces and Kerry's path to the semi-final this year proves this - they beat Clare twice and Tipperary.
The new system would mean that any of the eight play-off teams would have to face serious opposition which can only be good for the neutral followers.
On the downside, the proposals will do little for the weaker counties because most of them will not reach the last eight as planned.
But Division 3 and 4 teams stand to gain also because they will be assured of home games in qualifiers and play-offs.
Middle-tier counties will be the big winners as it would open doors previously closed to them in the provincial system.
Playing both All-Ireland semi-finals on the same weekend will provide a huge GAA weekend in Dublin, presumably, and will also help club games around Ireland.
The presumed abolition of championship replays will be a necessity in this plan rather than a costly, time-wise, luxury as at present. Anybody even threatened with intelligence in GAA matters will back this modest plan. But it should be only a first step and if it works then surely more change will come quickly.
Instead of having eight teams as proposed in the play-offs there could be 16 and thereby provide more games around the four provinces and boost the GAA's finances hugely.
The biggest block to club and county fixtures is the crazy time it takes to play the four provincial finals thereby often leaving counties idle for between four and six weeks. That time could be halved.
In summary, this proposal - if passed - could be described as 'one small step for (GAA) man' but only the first such step with the demands of the modern game and the way it is organised.
This also proves by the way that once the provincial championships are completed the running of the All-Ireland series is out of the hands of provincial councils but instead rests with the Central Council in Croke Park.