Ulster GAA secretary and CEO Brian McAvoy has warned against adopting any championship structure which would remove the link between the provincial championships and the All-Ireland series.
In his report to Ulster GAA’s convention at the end of the month, McAvoy addressed the ongoing discussion over the future of the football championship and insists any move to decouple the provinces from the All-Ireland series would ‘devalue’ the competitions, referencing the Ulster hurling championship as an example.
“The separation of the provincial championships from the All-Ireland series remains on the table, though an Ulster Championship to consist of 1 x Round Robin Group of 5 and 1 x Round Robin Group of 4 has replaced the initial proposal of two groups of four, which would mean one Ulster county being designated to Connacht on an annual basis," he wrote.
"I’ve previously stated my strong desire to ensure that all nine Ulster counties get to compete in their own provincial championship, so this amendment to the initial option is a welcome development.
"However, I have also previously expressed my opposition to the decoupling of the provincial championships from the All-Ireland series. Doing this would devalue the provincial championships and counties would undoubtedly use them as preparation for the forthcoming League/Championship.
"As evidence you don’t have to look any further than the now defunct Ulster Senior Hurling Championship – during the 1990’s and 2000’s it was a competitive competition with Antrim, Down and Derry all enjoying success," he continues.
"However, when it became decoupled from the Liam MacCarthy Cup series it effectively lost its prestige and was no longer treated with the same relevance by players and supporters alike. I fear the same would happen to the Ulster Senior Football Championship if this proposal was to be adopted."
McAvoy also addressed the frustrated issue of the development of Casement Park and expressed hope that the project could see ‘real progress’ in 2021.
“Without planning, however, as our Project Board Chairman Tom Daly has said for many years’, there is no project. That remained the case until mid-October when Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon announced to our delight that she would be recommending a notice of approval for the project. On 18th November that Notice was issued, all of 1,359 days after the planning application had been submitted.
"This was a result that lifted the spirits of all Ulster Gaels as for the second time we have secured the support of Government Ministers’ and planning officials for our new fit for purpose provincial stadium in Ireland’s second city, Belfast. I thank them for the time they devoted to the application.
"For over a decade Ulster GAA has been striving to develop a Provincial Stadium for the Association in Ulster, which will be recognised as a symbol of the GAA’s contribution to communities in the North and provide a catalyst for the further promotion of Gaelic Games in Belfast.
"Casement Park, which first opened in 1953, is the home of Antrim GAA and Ulster GAA and we are determined to see the venue transformed to become the iconic stadium for the GAA in Ulster for future generations. Tom Daly has been involved as Chairman of this stadium development project from the very beginning and his commitment has been absolute during the past ten years. I now look forward to 2021 being the year when Tom and fellow Board members may have the opportunity to see real progress on site.”