Belfast Telegraph

Rule proposals may devalue future titles

By Declan Bogue

Run it by me once more? Cavan or Antrim, as the lowest-placed Ulster teams in the National League, will play an Ulster preliminary round.

The winner will go on to play an Ulster quarter-final and the loser will re-emerge unscathed in the Connacht Championship, as if the whole nasty business 'up north' was just a bad dream.

They get another life in Connacht, but lose that game and they immediately revive themselves like a character in a 'Beat 'em Up' Nintendo game to take their place in the qualifiers.

When is a Championship not a Championship? When you can lose twice and yet still win the lot. We know it, and the Football Review Committee could well know it when they issued the second part of their proposals the other day.

Their idea, of horsing one Ulster team into the west and splitting three Leinster counties into the Connacht and Munster Championships to guarantee every province four quarter-finals was imaginative, though another ill-advised layer of complication.

Imagine you have a cousin over from England with a passing interest in Gaelic football. Try explaining to him how the provincial system works and he will be befuddled that each team can enter the All-Ireland race under different conditions.

He might express surprise at how Dublin won the All-Ireland after emerging from a province with a whopping twelve counties. By the same token he would be alarmed that Mayo only have to be the best of five counties to reach the last three games.

Then you could really blow his mind by informing him that Munster has only six counties, yet is the greatest landmass.

By the time you get into county sides migrating to other provinces he would be reduced to an unfeeling, unresponsive mess.

Chairman of the FRC, Eugene McGee makes the entirely reasonable point that when people were ordered to do certain things, they pull against commands from high.

His solution guarantees more games in Connacht and Munster and more Championship games for what they term 'less successful counties.'

They also make provision for funding these counties from the central GAA purse with qualified coaches to bring their standards up. Clearly, their paper is not without its' charms.

But sometimes the most obvious solutions are easiest.

County teams are too wedded in tradition to change, but the old provincial system is outdated.

It's not too radical to suggest the All-Ireland competition could be played with four 'conferences'. The Northern conference would consist of Derry, Antrim, Tyrone, Down, Armagh, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Donegal. Western conference would be Sligo, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim, Longford, Westmeath, London and New York within a preliminary round.

Out in the East conference we have Dublin, Meath, Kildare, Wicklow, Carlow, Wexford, Louth and Cavan and in the deep south, the Southern Conference features Cork, Kerry, Clare, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford, Laois and Offaly. Yeeh-haw.

Yes, Cavan would be in Leinster now and yes, Westmeath and Longford have been farmed out to the west. Each provincial council would be rebranded and assume responsibility for the running of GAA affairs in each of their new counties.

But you know what? They would get used to it. Those that cling to tradition would be reminded that each Conference would host an eight-team knockout tournament and the trophies such as the Anglo-Celt and the Nestor Cup would be retained.

For those that froth at the mouth at the 'Ulster' or for that the 'Munster' identity being lost, the Inter-Provincial tournament could become a 'State-of-Origin style competition, running over two days around St Patrick's Day in Croke Park, as a hub of the wider cultural celebrations and the GAA's contribution to the national holiday.

This would also neatly replace the club finals, which could and should be played off within the calendar year as proposed elsewhere.

All of this however is mere pie-in-the-sky stuff. We don't for a minute believe that any of this will be implemented.

What is achievable is the 'new deal' for club football.

The Football Review Committee, in recommending that club Championship rounds take place in May, June and July, in streamlining the bloated provincial Championships, want to return Gaelic football to Gaelic footballers – not just county Gaelic footballers and the whims of their managers.

As a mediocre junior club footballer, it is something that excites me very much indeed.

Who would vote against it? Bear in mind that not every county board is in thrall/fear of their county team manager and essentially the county board comprises of the clubs in each county.

And under the cover of Congress and the new 'button vote', it can, and will happen.

Hallelujah!

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