Sunday 25 February 2018

Money talk is 'lazy and cynical' - GAA chief Páraic Duffy hits back at critics of football proposal

Tipperary have already opposed the plan but Duffy is offering a robust defence ahead of a meeting of county chairmen on Saturday. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
Tipperary have already opposed the plan but Duffy is offering a robust defence ahead of a meeting of county chairmen on Saturday. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

GAA director-general Páraic Duffy has hit back at critics who claim a radical proposal for reform of the All-Ireland football championship is money-driven, describing it as "a lazy and cynical view".

In a revised document sent to counties this week, outlining in detail how the new format would work, Duffy says finance is not a consideration.

"If this proposal had been made for financial reasons, it would not seek to reduce the number of replays, nor propose that we play eight of the 12 group games outside Croke Park.

"It's also important to stress that a significant proportion of any additional revenue arising from the group matches will be ring-fenced for the development of games in less successful counties," he writes.

The plan, first published in August and now updated, proposes scrapping the All-Ireland football quarter-finals, replacing them with two groups of four. They would play off in a 'round-robin' format to produce the four semi-finalists.

If the system operated this year, the eight counties involved would have been Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Tyrone (provincial winners); Donegal, Tipperary, Clare, Mayo (qualifiers).

Tipperary have already opposed the plan but Duffy is offering a robust defence ahead of a meeting of county chairmen on Saturday.

He argues that a proper system should ensure that the best teams contest the All-Ireland semi-finals and that the 'round robin' mechanism for the last eight would help that process.

"It should not be the function of a championship format to make it easy for any team to reach the semi-finals," he writes.

His blueprint envisages a dramatic scheduling overhaul of the provincial championships, bringing them forward by a month, and playing the All-Ireland hurling final on the second Sunday in August, with the football decider two weeks later.

Extra-time would be played as required and Ulster would have to abandon the policy of playing their football championship over eight weekends, instead doubling up on quarter-finals with Saturday/Sunday games.

Duffy defends the decision to change the latter end of the football championship only, pointing out that counties from lower divisions want to remain within the provincial and qualifier structures rather than competing in a second-tier championship. He argues that whatever format applies, it will never be the case that all counties can compete on an absolutely equal basis.

"Critical commentary of the championship structure seems oddly preoccupied with achieving an ideal that ignores the unalterable reality of differences in population size, number of clubs, financial resources etc.

"So in the interests of the real (rather than the ideal), let us accept that it is thoroughly unrealistic to believe that every county has an equal chance of winning the Sam Maguire Cup," states Duffy, who launches a spirited case for replacing the quarter-finals with a 'round robin' system and making sweeping changes to the timing of the championship.

Duffy insists that various objections to the 'round robin' concept don't stand up to scrutiny.

Among the most common are the arguments that it dilutes the 'sudden death' nature of the latter stages of the championships, that there is a risk of 'dead rubber' games in Round 3 and that extra inter-county games would impact negatively on club activity.

The 'round robin' would add eight extra games but two would be cut from the NFL programme by scrapping the Division 1 semi-finals, thus allowing another weekend for club activity. "As for the other issues, none of the 29 games in the provincial championships are 'sudden death. In any case, it is not defeat-as-final-elimination that determines how exciting a match is, as many an enthralling provincial final in the qualifier age testifies.

"On the question of dead rubbers, critics seem to expect an ideal in the GAA that does not exist anywhere else. There is a risk of a 'dead rubber' game in every kind of 'round robin' format in every sport. In addition - and very importantly - the fact that the two provincial champions in each group play each other in the first game reduces the likelihood of meaningless games in Round 3," states Duffy.

Under the plan, four 'round robin' games would be played in Croke Park in the first round, followed by four in the home grounds of the provincial champions. The qualifiers would have home advantage for the final round.

With the All-Ireland hurling and football finals to be completed in August - thereby increasing room for club activity in September - the provincial championships would be brought forward by several weeks.

Under Duffy's sample plan, they would run as follows:

Munster SF: May 8 - June 6

Connacht SF: May 1 - June 13

Leinster SF: April 30 - June 20

Ulster SF: May 1 - June 20

Leinster SH: Apr 10 - June 6

Munster SH: May 15 - June 13.

The football semi-finals would be played over one weekend in August.

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