Saturday 20 January 2018

John Greene: CPA renew calls to park 'piecemeal' championship reform in favour of new think tank

'Paraic Duffy has been touring the country presenting the proposals to county boards, putting in the hard yards, and the sense is that unlike in previous years, there is a willingness to try the new system' Photo: Sportsfile
'Paraic Duffy has been touring the country presenting the proposals to county boards, putting in the hard yards, and the sense is that unlike in previous years, there is a willingness to try the new system' Photo: Sportsfile
John Greene

John Greene

The likelihood is that the proposals to revamp the All-Ireland football championship will be passed at Congress next weekend. Paraic Duffy has been touring the country presenting the proposals to county boards, putting in the hard yards, and the sense is that unlike in previous years, there is a willingness to try the new system.

The decision to trial them initially for a three-year period has been a crucial one - making the new so-called 'super 8' and earlier dates for the All-Ireland finals more palatable. Somehow, when the whiff of permanency hangs over proposals like these it seems harder to then implement change.

However, despite the fact that the reforms put forward by Duffy are likely to be adopted, the recently-formed Club Players' Association (CPA) will again this week renew its call for the GAA to park them - for now at least.

"Our main concern is that these proposals, now split into three separate motions, reinforce a piecemeal approach to a problem that everyone agrees exists," says former Meath footballer and CPA treasurer Anthony Moyles. "A piecemeal approach does not address the concerns of club players, and it means that this problem will linger while disenchantment grows."

The CPA remains firmly of the view that it is in everyone's best interests if these proposals are delayed.

"We have been asked for our own proposals," adds Moyles. "We have received proposals from county boards, journalists, individual players. There is no shortage of proposals. All have merit, just like the official GAA proposal has merit. We have two groups working on hurling and football, taking on board the information we have received.

"Our proposal, repeatedly stated, is to bring these and other ideas and evidence to a GAA central think tank and set out a solution that is lasting and helps county boards, provincial councils, central council and higher education sequence and plan their games."

It is possible that Duffy's proposals have merit and will improve the Championship. There is certainly no harm in trying them out over a trial period but the argument for delaying for even just a year is a strong one. The GAA has already decided to audit county boards on how they are running their fixtures programme and Moyles believes this is an opportunity to properly get to grips with the problem.

"With the GAA having decided this approach has merit, why not park the proposals, gather the evidence as the GAA proposes to do and use it to inform the think tank discussions," he says.

While it is easy to suppose that the idea of a 'super 8' format replacing the current All-Ireland football qualifiers - in which the last eight play each other in a round-robin series, split into two groups - will generate considerable public interest and possibly additional revenue, the argument that it will benefit club fixtures all over the country is harder to see.

"It will result in two-lane club championship within provinces, one fast lane, one slow lane," says Moyles. "Yes one county may be able to complete their programme sooner, but when the winners go forward to the provincial series, they may have to wait for four weeks on their neighbour because they have been in the super 8. This flies in the face of common sense and every piece of sports science on player periodisation and team preparation."

Few people doubt that there is a need in the GAA to seriously look at the structures of both the football and hurling championships. And working on the basis that, for now at least, the provincial championships cannot be touched, then Duffy's proposals are as good as anything that has been put to Congress before. Remember, there has only ever been one major change to the championships - the introduction of the qualifiers - so this is a potentially seismic moment. The difficulty is that it will not cure the fixtures problem for clubs, in fact it may make it worse.

"There is an air that change is required, you can sense it. Now whether the individuals who go to Congress can feel it, I certainly think it is there. Twenty-odd thousand members who have joined us have joined us for a reason, because they think it's required. I think that is only going to grow. Whether the proposal goes through or not, I really do think that people will realise that's a first step, but more is required. And what we're trying to say, why not bring that in one go rather than doing it, here's another bit and here's another bit, which is the Irish way unfortunately."

The CPA will also move this week to counter claims that it is prepared to engage in the nuclear option of a strike if it doesn't get its way. Moyles also says the CPA will not be seeking financial benefits or sponsorships for members. The group has already turned down commercial opportunities and, he says, will continue to do so.

"My own situation is that I've a two-year-old girl, an eight-months-pregnant wife, I'm working in Davy, I'm managing Dunshaughlin, and I've got involved in this purely because I can see the absolute merits in it. My frustration I suppose is that I'm feeling we're being painted as this kind of thorn in the side who are looking for this and that, and the next thing is they'll be looking for sponsorship for the players, or next thing they'll be looking for club players to come in and say that we won't play unless we get this. It's absolutely nothing about that."

The Association is seeking official recognition, and has asked the GAA to allow it speak on this point at Congress. The CPA will not, Moyles says, be coming back to the GAA at some point in the future to ask for money or equipment. "That is not on the agenda. Fixtures are."

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