Martin Breheny: FRC have conceded too much ground
Redrawing provincial map more viable than proposed relocation of four defeated counties
ON Saturday, June 10, 2006, a headline in the Irish Independent sports pages read: 'GAA must redraw map to solve crux.' What followed was our proposal to realign the four provinces into four groups of eight for the All-Ireland SFC while making only minimal changes to the provincial campaigns. It arose from the announcement by the then GAA president Nickey Brennan that competition structures were to be reviewed.
At the time, clubs were complaining of having their summer programmes squeezed mercilessly by the All-Ireland qualifiers, whose scheduling was impacted on by the varying number of counties in each province. Aligning the four provinces equally would have greatly helped the fixture-makers in terms of certainty and consistency.
We suggested that Longford and Westmeath plus Donegal or Fermanagh moved into Connacht (or the West as it would be re-designated), that Wexford plus Laois or Carlow moved into Munster (South) and that London play in Leinster (East). Ulster (North) would remain as it is, other than for losing Fermanagh or Donegal. Obviously, the re-designations were for illustrative purposes only so other changes could also have been considered, once they ensured four regional groups of eight each.
More than seven years later, the Football Review Committee (FRC) have gone for the equality of provincial numbers formula as their big ticket item in their fixtures review. Having backed it so long ago, it's logical to support it now but only as a general principle.
Where I part wavelengths with the FRC is in the methodology of deciding which counties move region. The FRC propose that every county competes in their own provincial championship but that the first-round losers in Leinster (3) and Ulster (1) head for Connacht and Munster in order to bring the latter two up to eight each.
It's clever in that it forces no county out of its own province but offers first-round losers a chance to become cuckoos in others' nests. Also, it links first-round games in Ulster and Leinster to finishing places in the previous year's league. In effect, the Leinster and Ulster draws would be seeded to ensure that their lowest-ranked teams in the league played each other in the first provincial round.
The FRC proposal avoids the difficulty of trying to persuade counties to relocate, except when offering them a chance to play in a second provincial championship.
However, in solving one problem they have created another, one which leaves their proposal with a credibility issue. Three first-round Leinster and one Ulster loser would head west and south (two to each), effectively giving them dual provincial status.
Why should four counties be handed such a valuable prize for failing in their own province? Based on recent league finishes, Meath would be in the Leinster first round where, if they lost, they would head west or south.
Why should Meath, Leinster winners in 2010 and four-time All-Ireland winners in the last 26 years, be handed such a perk?
If, having lost in the Leinster first round, Meath then failed at any stage in Connacht or Munster, they would still be eligible for the qualifiers. In effect, they could lose twice in different provinces and still ride on in search of Sam. Sorry folks, that's not on.
The FRC recognise the anomaly but are also acutely aware that if their proposal to create four regional groups of eight is to have a decent chance of being accepted, it cannot force counties out of their own provinces.
Instead, the lucky four are to be given a chance back home before muscling in somewhere else. It's most unlikely that weaker counties in Connacht and Munster would tolerate that, and understandably so.
The FRC faced a tough balancing act between the need to deliver something practical yet attractive. Hence, their dual province eligibility for four counties.
They will argue that if they attempted to force any county out of its province, their proposal would fail immediately. However, there's a limit to how much compromise can be made.
In this instance, the FRC has used neat footwork to devise a structure which, as a basic principle, is solid. However, they have conceded too much in order to increase its appeal.
They may feel they had no option if their plan was to have any chance of success but that's not exactly a great selling point. If the four groups of eight are to work, then some counties will have to change province from the start and not after losing a first-round game.
Otherwise forget it.
Costello's referee double-up idea well worth considering
JOHN Costello raises an interesting point in his annual report for the Dublin Convention when he suggests experimenting with two referees in the January pre-season competitions.
Obviously, it won't happen next year but it would certainly be informative if all four provinces tried it out in 2015. The pace of the modern game places incredible physical demands on hurling and football referees and, however fit they might be, they can't possibly keep up with the game when it's at full speed. Yet decisions are analysed and criticised as if the referees were close to the action all the time, as happens in rugby.
Experimenting with two referees in pre-season games would give an indication of how it works out in practice, prior to discussing if it should be introduced for the main action. It's well worth considering.
Departed legends of '82 will live long in our memories
One wonders how Páidí ó Sé, Tim Kennelly and John Egan greeted Liam O'Connor when he stepped through the celestial gates last week.
No doubt, they would remind him that he had broken every full-back code in the game at the time by taking himself forward so adventurously before hoisting the lob which set up Seamus Darby's famous goal in the 1982 All-Ireland final.
For those of us who witnessed the game, it's difficult to believe that four men who performed in such a memorable encounter 31 years ago are deceased. The memory of all four will always live on in GAA hearts and minds.
Indeed, the approaching first anniversary of Páidí's death has been marked by the publication of a excellently-crafted biography by Donal Keenan. Páidí (above) himself would have enjoyed it, which says it all about its quality.