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Rule changes to get bumpy ride

By Declan Bogue

The prospect of Fermanagh or Antrim taking part in the Connacht provincial football Championship could become a distinct possibility if the latest findings of the Football Review Committee – published yesterday – are acted upon.

Within the 18-page report, some radical and some conservative ideas were suggested with significant common-sense employed in their recommendations for curtailing the inter-county season and facilitating club fixtures, but undoubtedly it is the notion of each province beginning with eight county teams that will spark most debate.

Under the proposals, Munster and Connacht would be beefed up by losers of preliminary rounds in Leinster and Ulster (the loser in this instance going automatically into Connacht), to make four quarter-finals in each province.

Such a rule change would also make it possible that a team could lose in their own province, lose as a guest in another province, yet still go on to win an All-Ireland title.

FRC Chairman Eugene McGee admitted that his body were not in the business of floating this idea to any counties before the committee had the idea formed.

Speaking at the launch of the paper, he said, "I have no idea what their views will be. There was no point in us consulting in advance because it would lead to mayhem around the place and all kinds of weird ideas and suggestions. So we decided to put it in paper and let the different sections of the GAA decide for themselves."

He continued, "It may well be that it will be thrown out but it is very hard to argue against the logic of four eights.

"It could ease a lot of fixture making, it could make Championships more interesting. In Munster if you had six counties other than Cork or Kerry would they be able to play off among themselves and have a proper round robin and then have a better team play Cork or Kerry. It will open up a lot of avenues but I have no doubt that there will be a lot of objections."

The identity of teams who would compete in the preliminary rounds would be directly linked to their league position and how far down the league system they were in the preceding year.

While such a development is always going to be seen as radical, the idea of redefining provincial boundaries and drawing up and northern, eastern, western and southern 'conferences', would create an insurmountable problem, according to McGee.

"The difficulty in doing that would be immense because it would mean certain counties would have to be picked out and designated. I was warned by some very wise people in recent years (that) you can't picked out a county and say 'you have to do that'. We consider this to be a fairer method."

He continued, "Any changes involved would be based purely on match results so it's as fair as can possibly be. If you're not good enough that year you still get another chance and they would still have another game in the qualifiers.

"Those counties would have a guaranteed three Championship matches, which would be the ambition of most."

Another main facet that garnered much discussion was the idea that rounds of club Championship games – as revealed in the Belfast Telegraph a few weeks ago – would be hosted in May, June and July, leaving each county at semi-final stage by the first week in August.

The actions of Donegal, who have agreed to defer the club Championship until the county side have concluded their involvement in the All-Ireland series, were rewarded with a thinly-veiled swipe within the report.

"We are starting the process of doing something and trying to stop what is a trend that is developing that is very worrying and very worrying for the 98% of Gaelic footballers who never play county football," continued McGee.

"They love their football and they put as much into it as county football. That 98% has to be given a top priority. If democracy means anything and the GAA means anything, my parish team has to get a fair whack at getting a few games in the summer time in Co Longford and it's the same with every single county in Ireland. We are taking the first steps, I think, to ensure that that will happen."

Liam O'Neill, President of the GAA, revealed that the proposals will not come under consideration at the GAA Congress of 2014, but there was a possibility a special Congress could be summoned in order to deals with areas of concern rising out of the report.

The FRC also recommended that the Inter-Provincial tournament should be retained and re-branded, perhaps hosted in one place as the centrepiece of a larger festival of Gaelic culture.

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