'No second chance if counties make an early exit'
Leinster chief wants 'pointless' qualifiers restricted to provincial last four as he slams Review Committee
Leinster GAA CEO Michael Delaney has strongly criticised the All-Ireland football qualifier system, describing it as "unwieldy, time-consuming and practically pointless until the month of August."
He would prefer a return to the straight knockout championship but accepts that since that's most unlikely to happen, a sensible compromise would be to restrict qualifier access to counties who were beaten in provincial semi-finals and finals.
Counties who lose in all rounds of the provincial series are allowed back into the All-Ireland race under the existing format.
Delaney is critical too of aspects of the recent Football Review Committee (FRC) report, including the proposal to structure the provincial championship on four groups of eight, which would involve some counties from Leinster and Ulster playing in Munster and Connacht after being eliminated from their own campaigns in the first round.
He says that he is raising his reservations in order to stimulate debate about various issues.
"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 response," he writes in his annual report, which will be put before the Leinster Council's Convention in Croke Park on Saturday
"This is not for the purpose of being controversial or a headline grabber - it is merely the view of a constituency of which I see myself to be a typical member."
He claims that the biggest threat to club activity is the extensive inter-county programme, especially the qualifiers, and is disappointed with the FRC's response to the challenges faced at local level.
"Early on in the document, it is stated that the report attempts to address the prevailing view that club players are badly treated in terms of their competitions and fixtures. This is a noble ambition but, in my view, it does not remotely deal with this problem.
"Years of experience have led me to the conclusion that the biggest obstacle to organising 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 barley touched on its existence," writes Delaney.
He told the Irish Independent that he always felt there was something special about the knockout championship which applied in hurling up to 1996 and in football until 2000.
"Most people seem want to see counties get a second chance but my personal preference is for straight knockout. By way of compromise, and in order to give more room for club activity, I would suggest that only those teams beaten in provincial semi-finals and finals be let back into the All-Ireland championships.
"That would free up a lot of weekends for club football in many counties. As things stand, club players are being treated with disdain - everyone knows that," he writes.
Describing the proposal to streamline the provincial football championships into four groups of eight as "a bit of a head-scratcher", he cannot see any merit in the idea.
"Are we to persuade ourselves that the first three games in the Leinster 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-Wicklow game heading off to play Waterford or Kerry in the Munster championship or for the loser of Longford-Laois having to head off to Castlebar to play Mayo in the Connacht championship?" he asks.
Delaney also believes that FRC proposals relating to the scheduling of provincial football finals would impact negatively on hurling.
"This I find, to be the most serious problem with the report. The scheduling proposals for the football championships are neatly packaged (although I thought the committee might have addressed the possibility of Friday night games) 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," he writes.
He queries when the Leinster and Munster hurling finals will be played if the FRC's proposal to stage the four provincial football finals over two successive weekends in July is adopted.
"What happens to the Leinster and Munster hurling finals? Surely it's not envisaged that they be played on the same day?" writes Delaney.
He also has qualms about other FRC proposals, including reducing the minor age limit by a year, retaining the inter-provincial championships and the International Rules series and the third-level eligibility rule.
Despite his unease with various aspects of the FRC report, he believes it also contains many "innovative and constructive proposals" which deserve to be supported.
"I genuinely compliment the FRC on the thoroughness of their work - let the debate begin," he writes.