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All-Ireland in huge shake-up

By Declan Bogue

The introduction of Champions League-style group stages for the All-Ireland Football Championship quarter-finals will be voted through this weekend at GAA Congress.

Barring an incredible volte-face with indicated voting patterns, all three proposals coming from Central Council - which have become misleadingly known as being from Director-General Páraic Duffy - will be approved on Saturday.

That includes the motion to get rid of replays outside of provincial and All-Ireland finals, and to bring the All-Ireland finals back a few weeks.

The most contentious of these is the introduction of a two groups of four league system at the quarter-final stage, weeding out four teams to make up semi-finalists.

At this point, it appears the only counties that are prepared to vote against the 'Super 8s' system are Derry, Tyrone, Down, Cork and Kilkenny.

In some counties, this is already the case. Dublin's Jonny Cooper admitted to playing just two league games for his club Na Fianna last year.

At a recent Hurling League launch in Belfast, injured Waterford hurler Philip Mahony told this reporter that no county hurlers play in league action for their clubs, pointing out that their Championship is structured like a league.

The local man put up for the launch, Antrim's Neil McManus, seemed positively amazed at this revelation - "You sure about that? That can't be right!"

McManus simply never misses a league game for his club Cushendall and insists this is the same for everyone in Antrim.

Tyrone will not approve it, neither will Down. Kilkenny and Cork are two others not expected to give it their approval.

But crucially, Central Council have got - bar one or two - all on board. In recent weeks, Duffy had embarked on a tour of counties to sell his vision.

Those that listened to what he had to say were impressed with the proposal and how he sold it to them. Others - on more than one occasion a hard-pressed fixtures secretary or two up north - were less impressed.

Other methods used to get the message across were sponsored Facebook links, a sympathetic piece with Kerry great Mikey Sheehy and some prime-time television coverage from RTÉ on the League Sunday show last weekend.

The proposals as they sit today are considerably toned down from the original suggestions.

That will not surprise seasoned observers of Congress, where change passes through as easily as gallstones.

"The first point I want to make is these are not my proposals. I brought a document to Coiste Bainistí (management committee), they decided to make these into a report and recommend them to Central Council. I don't want to personalise it," said Duffy.

That is true. The proposals originated from another Ulster man, which appears to have convinced their particular delegates to Congress to fall into line.

As counties of the current President and Director-General, Cavan and Monaghan respectively will give support to their men. It took a heated meeting on Monday night, but Fermanagh, Antrim and Armagh are all on board.

It might surprise many to learn that Congress voting is remarkably similar to the American Electoral College of voting - the more clubs you have as a county, the more votes you get.

Therefore, it's the likes of Wexford, Tipperary, Limerick and Galway who are the real kingmakers at Congress along with the International Units of the GAA, who have a tendency to go along with Central Council wishes.

But if anything is going to sway opinion, it is the bottom line of when counties would finish their involvement in county football.

Duffy's proposals came with a rather handy table pointing out how that might have turned out had the changes been implemented in time for the season just past.

Antrim: finished four weeks earlier. Armagh: Five. Cavan: Three. Derry: a fortnight. Donegal: One week. Down: Four weeks. Fermanagh: Four weeks. Monaghan: Four weeks. Tyrone: A week.

Where does this leave the recently-formed Club Players Association, who had the nerve, audacity, or just plain sense - whichever way your sympathies lie - to ask Duffy to 'park' his proposals until they had a seat at some round-table discussions with all the vested interests in order to 'fix the fixtures'?

Outside. Howling at the moon. County boards have seen the bottom line and have been seduced by it.

That's life. That's the GAA. That's politics.

Belfast Telegraph

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