MUCH of the recent talk on Planet GAA has centred on black cards, or the lack thereof. It's early days, the false dawn before a new league raises the card count and the hackles of disgruntled managers ... but, so far, so positive seems to be the general reaction.
One-nil, then, to the Football Review Committee. It remains to be seen whether the FRC achieves the same level of acceptance/success with its 'Part 2' proposals, focusing on competition structures, unveiled before Christmas. And yesterday, albeit from a not-unexpected source, the Championship 'tweakers' were taken to task.
It will come as no great surprise that the secretary of a provincial council should voice opposition to a proposal that would see the four preliminary round losers in Leinster and Ulster entered into the Munster and Connacht championships.
Why? Because while it may engineer the creation of that elusive symmetrical dream known as four eight-team conferences, it would surely dilute the existing provincial championship product. You fall at the first Leinster hurdle only to get a second chance against your Munster neighbours – yes, it offers mathematical balance, but where's the fairness?
Enter Michael Delaney into the FRC debate. He has been Leinster Council secretary since 1976 and, through the ensuing four decades, the Leinster Senior Football Championship has been the flagship event/income generator for his province. Thus, you may question his neutrality when it comes to the FRC blueprint, but his views merit serious consideration all the same.
Here is a flavour, as contained in what promises to be his last annual secretary's report before retirement.
"The initial reaction to the report has been so benign that one hesitates to bring forward a negative viewpoint but, since I may not get too many more opportunities to do so, I feel I must put forward my own genuine response," writes Delaney.
"Early on in the document, it is stated that this report attempts to address the prevailing view that club players are badly treated in terms of their competitions and fixtures. That is a noble ambition but, in my opinion, the report does not remotely deal with this problem.
"Years of experience have led me to the conclusion that the biggest obstacle to the organisation of any kind of viable club competition schedule is the qualifier system in the inter-county senior championships. It is unwieldy, time-consuming and practically pointless until the month of August. Yet the FRC barely touched on its existence.
"In fairness, if you are going to knock something, you should have some kind of an alternative. For what it's worth, this is mine. If the qualifier series is not to be dispensed with (which would be my own personal preference) then it should only come into play for beaten provincial semi-finalists and finalists. That would certainly free up a lot of weekends for club football in many counties."
The latter contention would certainly be true, but this column disputes the thesis that this justifies scrapping the qualifiers. As for limiting them as outlined above, that would mean 16 county teams are cast adrift without a second chance, a majority of them gone from the Championship after just one match.
Is such a drastic measure the best solution to our club fixture crisis, a crisis fuelled (in part) by a lack of leadership and coherent planning at county board level? Moreover, will inter-county panellists, who live like monks and train like professionals in pursuit of summer dreams, accept it? We doubt it.
Our own belief is that the FRC could have gone further, with a tiered championship structure that would see the strongest compete for Sam Maguire while the weaker counties could still aspire to success/progress at a less rarefied level. But the GAA body politic, not to mention the minnows, aren't ready for that quantum leap just yet, and until they are ...
Back to Delaney's contribution, and we find ourselves nodding in agreement to much of the following: "The proposal to have eight teams in each province at the start of the inter-county provincial championships is a bit of a head-scratcher. Are we to persuade ourselves that the first three games in the Leinster Senior Football championship are not really that at all?
"Besides, can somebody honestly tell me what is the attraction – for players, supporters or media – of the loser of a Carlow v Wicklow SFC game heading off to play Waterford or Kerry in the Munster championship, or for the loser of a Longford v Laois game having to head off to Castlebar to play Mayo in the Connacht championship?"
He then addresses his "most serious problem" with the report – hurling. "The scheduling proposals for the football championship are neatly packaged," he writes, " ... but there appears to be little or no consideration given to the need to also factor in dates for the provincial and All-Ireland hurling championship fixtures.
"This is most blatant when the committee proposes that the four provincial football finals would be played over two successive weekends in July. What happens to the Leinster and Munster senior hurling finals? Surely it is not envisaged that they be played on the same day!" If only solutions were that simple. In the multi-layered labyrinth of the GAA, they never are.