This has turned silly. What should have been a measured analysis of the proposals for reform of the football championship has descended into a messy mixture of spin, exaggeration, manipulation of facts, guesswork and scaremongering.
f that continues into the debate at Saturday’s Special Congress, the decision will be based on a dangerous fallacy.
The starting point for this entire process is a realisation that the championship structure is seriously flawed.
Those of us who have been making that case for decades now find it amusing that because we don’t support any of the proposals, we are anti-change.
Far from it, but making the wrong change is worse than doing nothing, especially when a slight delay can bring a better result.
Based on what we’ve heard so far, the prospect of Saturday’s debate sticking to facts and well-formed arguments appears remote. Instead, we can expect lots of highly charged contributions.
Brian McAvoy, Ulster Council secretary, hasn’t spared the emotive horses, riding them boldly to the front line. Commenting on option ‘A’, he invoked Oliver Cromwell and ‘to hell or to Connacht’ in opposition to the proposal to move one Ulster county out west for provincial championship purposes.
He described option ‘B’ (discarding the provincial championships as part of the All-Ireland and using the league to choose the 10 counties who qualify for the knockout stages) as “probably the worst motion I ever saw on a Congress Clár”.
Its impact would, he claims, be of “Brexit proportions” for the GAA. All very colourful but unhelpful. His ‘worst motion’ drew a sharp response from fellow Downman, Ronan Sheehan, GPA rep on the Task Force that devised the various proposals.
“Incredibly disingenuous” was his response. He felt “disappointed and actually insulted”. He pointed to the quality of the committee, which included current and former presidents, Larry McCarthy and John Horan, and Connacht secretary, John Prenty.
“You (also) had John Costello and everybody kind of recognised Dublin are probably the best-run county board in Ireland,” said Sheehan. Everybody? Really Ronan? Was there an independent audit of county boards where Dublin came out tops? I don’t recall that.
Or is he basing it on their All-Ireland haul since 2011, which, in turn, fuels commercial success. Perhaps Carlow or Leitrim are better run off much smaller populations and very limited resources.
Conor O’Donoghue, another Task Force member, used the financial card to attract support for option ‘B’, predicting that it would bring in an extra €10 million. It’s a tempting figure, but it’s based on assumptions, so what credence does it deserve?
The same applies to the lower projections offered by GAA’s finance director Ger Mulryan. The truth is that nobody knows, so all estimates should be ignored.
In a bid to attract support for option ‘B’, Cork CEO Kevin O’Donovan, who was also on the Task Force, has thrown in the equivalent of a political party’s late pre-election promise by suggesting that provincial winners get a two-point bonus heading into the seven-round league series.
Apply that in practice and here’s what happens. Dublin, who have won 16 of the last 17 Leinster titles, and Kerry (10 of the last 12 Munster titles) start their All-Ireland qualification bid two points better off than some rivals. How can it be right that a new system gives the two most successful counties an advantage?
O’Donovan has also asked delegates not to vote down the proposal in the expectation that another plan will emerge. That view has been put forward by others too, including Micheál Briody, former chairman of the Club Players’ Association.
“Its (rejection) is going to set the GAA back 10 years really, 20 years if you want to go back to when the qualifiers were introduced,” he told the Sunday Independent.
Why so? If it’s voted down, what’s to stop work beginning immediately on another plan? That’s what happened in 2000 when the Football Development Committee’s reform package was rejected.
President Seán McCague immediately appointed Páraic Duffy to chair a new review group, which within three months proposed the introduction of the All-Ireland qualifiers. They were in place for 2001.
So the argument that it’s option ‘B’ or long-term stagnation simply doesn’t hold up. Indeed, all it requires for the plan to be fair and logical, a test it now fails, is a few tweaks.
Instead of limiting entry to the knockout stages of the championship to 10 counties why not include all 32 as follows:
Round 1: Div 4 v Div 3; Round 2: Winners Round 1 v Div 2; Round 3: Winners Round 2 v Div 1; Round 4: All-Ireland quarter-finals.
That still uses the league as the starting point, but allows all teams into the championship on a graduated basis. It also leaves room for the Tailteann Cup for Div 3 and 4 teams who didn’t reach Round 3.
As it stands, the proposal uses the league to decide which counties get 10 knockout championship places but not according to finishing order. Is there any competition in the world where teams with lower league finishes get a bigger reward than those with higher placings?
It’s why option ‘B’ should be rejected in its current form and rewired to accommodate common sense.