GAA chief defends provincial system and claims critics 'just don't get it'
The GAA's director general Paraic Duffy has said that ardent critics of the provincial championships calling for change "don't really get it."
Speaking at the launch of the All-Ireland football championships in Glenswilly, home club of Donegal captain Michael Murphy, Duffy gave firm backing to the current structures after three successive weekends that collectively brought 94 years of famine to an end for three different counties in hurling and football.
He also acknowledged that pitch invasions remain a concern for the Association but are a bigger issue in Croke Park – because of crowd sizes – than anywhere else.
Monaghan-native Duffy was a delighted figure in the Gerry Arthurs Stand on Sunday as Monaghan celebrated a first Ulster title in 25 years, with fans spilling out on the pitch afterwards for the presentation.
"I've always felt that we should keep the provincial championship," he said. "For Monaghan players and supporters that was a huge goal itself, to win a provincial title. I was in Monaghan at the celebrations. People who say 'get rid of the championships' don't really get it.
"If you tell anyone in Monaghan or, say, in Limerick at the Munster hurling final last Sunday, that it doesn't matter... I don't think there is an awful lot wrong with the present system. If there is a better system, fine, but the qualifiers allowed us to retain the provincial championships and allowed us to have different pairings," he said.
He also pointed out that if there had been an 'A' and 'B' championship split evenly, as some suggested should happen, Cavan, Monaghan and London would not have made such progress this summer.
"Sport has to be about the romance, about the small guy having his day. Most counties get their day. The present system is the one which best suits the GAA," said Duffy.
"There are probably teams who aren't good enough to compete, but it's a very small number. Those counties want to be a part of it and want to compete in it. If you have another system, say with eight groups of four, you'd have far more mismatches than with the current system.
"I still believe that we should retain the provincial championships in tandem with the qualifier system."
Duffy admitted it was "something very special" to look down at the Monaghan supporters on Sunday.
"The reason for us saying no to pitch invasions is because it's a health and safety issue. Last Sunday in Clones you had 32,000 people, the week before in Limerick you had 40,000, but in Croke Park you have potential for 80,000 people to come onto the pitch," he said.
"It's a bigger issue in Croke Park than anywhere else. This isn't a GAA crusade. It was done in Croke Park on Garda advice. It is dangerous. It's great if it goes off well.
"The other problem in Croke Park is that when people come onto the pitch they all go out onto Jones' Road again. That's what brought it to a head, where people were coming out there and pushing in different directions."
Duffy said Croke Park must ultimately accept responsibility for any adverse reception referee Joe McQuillan got off the crowd in Newbridge after Saturday night's defeat to Tyrone.
"You can say that it was a Kildare venue, but it was a Central Council fixture, so the onus is on us to look at what happened and make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.