Thursday 22 March 2018

'People can talk about 'round robin' restructure being money-driven but it's nothing but clichéd nonsense'

Duffy believes two-tier football championship is now inevitable

Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile Newsdesk Newsdesk

It has found little favour so far, but Páraic Duffy is convinced that a two-tier football championship is inevitable at some stage in the future as counties realise that it could be a very positive development.

He also believes that the revamped All-Ireland football series will prove very successful and that a new arrangement will also apply in hurling, perhaps as early as next year.

And, in a direct reminder to county boards that it's their responsibility to run better fixture programmes, Duffy says there should be no need for the Club Players Association.

The new All-Ireland football format, where a round robin will replace the quarter-finals, starts on a three-year experimental basis next year.

Hurling will also undergo a revamp, with round-robin formats in the Munster and Leinster Championships now a real possibility. The Central Competitions Control Committee is stitching all the details together for presentation to a Central Council meeting in mid-June.

If agreement is reached, a Special Congress will probably be called for August or September to amend the rules and allow the new format to apply next year.

"Concerns were expressed by hurling counties that the extra football games would create an imbalance between the profile of the two games," says Duffy.

"It was a valid point, which is why we decided to look at various options for hurling. Full details are still being worked out and eventually Central Council will decide what happens next.

"If the proposals are well supported, we could hold a Special Congress, but if they are in any way divisive, we'll leave them for now. Nobody is going to be forced into anything."

Ideally, Duffy would like the hurling situation settled as quickly as possible so that a new fixtures calendar could be compiled for the next three years.

Freeing up more time for clubs will be central to the amended schedules, a target that Duffy believes can be achieved as a result of various changes, including reducing the minor age limit to U-17, bringing forward the All-Ireland senior finals and leaving a clear gap between the end of the league and the start of the championship.

"We have been working on this for the past three years so it's not something that has come to light because of the CPA," he stresses.

"They made a point that our calendar needs to better reflect the needs of club players. I do accept that the CPA applied pressure within counties and that's no harm but I don't see that it will be needed long term. Clubs should not need a CPA or anyone else to fight their cause. County boards are made up of club representatives, so if clubs want change they can drive it.

"Every club should have a player on the executive so it's not as if players don't have a voice, first in their own clubs and also at county board level through their representatives."

Duffy is adamant that poor club programming often has nothing to do with the national calendar but rather with bad planning within counties.

"It's important to point out that many counties run their club programmes very well. That tends to be ignored when a difficulty arises somewhere," he says.

"Most of the problems are avoidable. Our new national calendar will be far more favourable to making club fixtures so it will be up to counties to use it well. Many will but some won't.

"There will be a far better deal for club players after this year. It hasn't happened overnight - we have been working on it for three years."

Duffy accepts that club v county tensions are an issue in some parts of the country but puts that down to boards giving in too easily to requests from team managers for games to be called off.

"Some county managers have too much power when it comes to the club programme," he says. "Again, you have to ask why county boards allow that.

"In fairness, not all county managers disregard club needs.

"Take the case of my own county, Monaghan. We have completed five rounds of the league already and county players were free to play in all of them, right up to last weekend, two weeks before their first Ulster Championship game.

"Malachy O'Rourke (Monaghan manager) takes a sensible view and is happy to see the county players play with their clubs so it works well.

"Brian Cody is the same in Kilkenny. He's fierce pro-club. In fact, I think he's more passionate talking about James Stephens than Kilkenny.

"There are several other managers who work well with the clubs too but you also have the ones who don't and that's where the problems start.

"It's also where county boards need to be strong. Ultimately, it's up to them to run affairs in the county."

Duffy is looking forward to the introduction of the round robin in next year's football championship and is convinced that it will be a major success. Jibes about it being financially motivated irritate him and he insists they are pure rubbish.

"If it was about money we'd play all the games in Croke Park, rather than going to provincial venues with most of them," he says.

"We're also playing extra-time in most games that finish level throughout the entire championship - if money was a factor, we'd stick with replays.

"People can say what they want about this (round robin) being money-driven but it's nothing but clichéd nonsense.

"We know from public reaction that people want as many games as possible among the top teams and the new system helps with that. It also evens things up for the last eight as they will play the same number of games in the round robin on the same dates.

"The gap to the semi-finals will be the same for all four teams as they will be played over one weekend and the finalists will then have the same wait for the final, which is fairer than the current system."

Duffy accepts that the round robin does nothing for weaker counties but predicts that change is on its way there too.

Proposals for a second-tier championship have never met with any enthusiasm but Duffy suspects that the mood will change in time.

"The number of counties that see themselves as second tier is relatively small," he points out. "Most counties want to take their chance in the top tier but we have to be realistic and accept that for some it's highly unlikely they will make the last eight. We need to find a competition that gives those counties a chance of success on a big stage. They've got to come around to accepting that themselves and work from there.

"People want the provincial championships to remain, and I support that, but I also believe that it's only a matter of time before we have a secondary championship in some form. It could be a big success but we need counties to get used to the idea."

Irish Independent

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