Saturday 20 January 2018

Shutting door on provincial revamp

Radical FRC idea shot down or ignored by Duffy and three of the four provincial chief executives

Laois players go through a warm-down after last June's All-Ireland SFC qualifier against Carlow
Laois players go through a warm-down after last June's All-Ireland SFC qualifier against Carlow
Páraic Duffy
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If the Football Review Committee hoped to gain influential support for their radical proposal to re-shape the provincial championships into four groups of eight, they will have been disappointed by the response from most of the GAA's top five paid administrators this week.

The FRC, chaired by Eugene McGee, are proposing that one Ulster and three Leinster first-round losers relocate to Connacht and Munster (two each), thus creating four groups of eight for all the provincial championships. In effect, it involves four counties competing in two provinces.

John Prenty (Connacht) was the only provincial CEO to show any enthusiasm for the idea. Even then, he raised reservations about aspects of the FRC's proposed mechanism (finishing places in the previous year's Allianz League is the FRC suggestion) for deciding which counties could arrive in the west and south.

Prenty's Leinster counterpart, Michael Delaney, was blunt and unequivocal in his opposition to the FRC proposal, branding it "a head-scratcher". Ulster's Danny Murphy questioned its merit, while Munster's Simon Moroney ignored it altogether.

The reaction of GAA director-general Paraic Duffy was, perhaps, the most interesting of all. The four provincial CEOs are directly involved in the proposed change so it's understandable that their response – whether positive, negative or indifferent – is influenced by local considerations.

Not so with Duffy, who has a wider spectrum of responsibility. That's why his views on the FRC's relocation idea are especially relevant, but they don't appear in his annual report.

Since his days as head of games administration more than a decade ago, Duffy has never shied away from expressing an opinion on topical matters but he confines himself to explaining the FRC proposal without comment other than to praise the committee and call for careful consideration of its suggestion on the championship structure.

"Whatever about our individual opinions on the defects of the present championship structure or about the means to rectify these, we must recognise that the FRC report is a valuable document, the fruit of much consultation and reflection by experienced and thoughtful people; we owe it to them and to the quality of the work to give very careful consideration to their proposals," he wrote.

While allowing for a certain reticence in wading into the debate at this stage, one suspects that if he wholeheartedly supported it, he would have found a way of expressing his support for a system which carries a provision for Connacht and/or Munster championships being won by a Leinster or Ulster county.

Delaney, who continues to back the straight knockout championship, is wholly unimpressed by the FRC idea of cross-provincial movement.


"Are we to persuade ourselves that the first three games of the Leinster championship are not really that at all?

"Besides, can anybody 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 a Longford-Laois game having to head off to Castlebar to play Mayo in the Connacht championship?" he wrote.

Interestingly, Prenty broadly agrees with the cross-province concept, although not with the FRC suggestion that first-round draws in Leinster and Ulster be based on where counties finished in the previous year's Allianz Leagues.

"I agree with the broad thrust of the FRC recommendation but see a flaw in trying to tie league and championship together for preliminary round (draws). Why not let Ulster and Leinster organise their own draws, with the losers getting their chance in Munster and Connacht? That would add vibrancy to our (Connacht) championships; possible games involving the likes of Tyrone or Meath would be relished," wrote Prenty.

Quite how western counties would react to major forces like Tyrone and Meath arriving as cuckoos in the Connacht nest after being beaten in their own provinces is a moot point.

It would certainly increase revenue for Connacht, but the possibility of their title heading for a county which had already lost in either the Leinster or Ulster championships would be difficult for many people out west to accept.

And even if the Leinster/Ulster migrants were beaten in Connacht, they would be afforded a third shot at the All-Ireland title, via the qualifiers, a privilege not available to other counties.

Danny Murphy believes the FRC proposal addresses the symptoms rather than the real issue of playing inequality between various counties.

"Getting defeated teams involved in another province is not addressing the need to develop the status of the counties to where they can compete on an equal basis," wrote Murphy.

Curiously, opposition to the FRC plan came from the Leinster and Ulster CEOs, despite the fact that their own championships would not in any way be affected by the change.

Meanwhile, Prenty, whose province would have two outside challengers, is broadly supportive while Moroney chose to remain silent on the issue.

Irish Independent

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