GPA raises stakes in spat with GAA
Players’ group will consult members over Croke Park’s championship stance
The GPA has asked inter-county footballers to discuss "as a matter of urgency" the rejection of the Association's plan for All-Ireland senior championships reform and the GAA's proposal to introduce a 'B' competition for Division 4 teams.
In what looks certain to lead to a further cooling in the relationship between the players' representative group and Croke Park, the GPA is seeking a response from its football membership to the GAA's stance, prior to deciding how to proceed.
Players have been informed that the GPA championship blueprint has been "formally rejected for reasons we are not satisfied with".
The GPA wants the provincial championships to remain in place, after which the initial stages of the All-Ireland campaign would be played off on a league basis, involving eight groups of four teams, 24 of which would qualify for the knockout stages.
The proposal was rejected by Central Council on the grounds that it would bring an increase in fixtures, thereby creating further problems for an already-squeezed club programme.
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The GPA contend that their plan would help streamline the schedule, resulting in greater clarity for club players, who are often left without games for long periods in the summer. The players' group also insist that the 'round robin' format, which was backed by a large majority of footballers, would invigorate the championship.
The GPA is opposed a 'B' championship but Central Council agreed last Saturday to back a secondary competition for the eight bottom counties. It will be discussed at Congress next month.
It would see a return to essentially the same system that applied in 2007-'08 when Division 4 teams were excluded from the All-Ireland qualifiers, instead playing in the Tommy Murphy Cup.
The only difference is that the winners of the 'B' championship would be allowed into the qualifiers in the following season. However, the GPA see no merit in the idea.
"We understand that there is serious concern among members about the developments," notes the GPA communication with its members.
Players are now being canvassed for their views under the following four headings: 'Yes' or 'No' in favour of the GAA proposal going before Congress; what action should be taken in response to the current situation; what level of disillusionment prevails among players over current structures; what appetite is there for structural change?
It will be embarrassing for the GAA if a motion goes before Congress which is opposed by the majority of inter-county footballers but that now seems to be highly likely.
Apart from the GPA, there have been a lot of negative responses to the return of a 'B' championship, with claims that it will do nothing for so-called weaker counties. It's unlikely to receive the necessary two-thirds majority, leaving the championship to continue in its present format for the foreseeable future.
The latest spat comes at a time when the GAA and the GPA are negotiating a new deal. Croke Park provides much of the GPA's funding, a situation that has led to disquiet among some GAA members.
Meanwhile, Clare hurling has suffered an early season blow with the disappointing news that Patrick Donnellan will miss the season due a cruciate ligament injury, sustained in a challenge game with Limerick champions Na Piarsaigh last weekend.
The absence of the 2013 All-Ireland-winning captain will be acutely felt by Clare as they attempt to revisit the glory peaks after two disappointing seasons.