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A revamped All-Ireland would help clubs: chiefs

By Declan Bogue

GAA chiefs have sent out a strong signal of intent that they wish to improve the plight of the club player through a significant discussion document to revolutionise the All-Ireland Football Championship format.

At first glance, any proposal to take the existing four quarter-final clashes and turn them into a group stage of 12 games would appear to make the load heavier, but the document contains some efforts towards condensing the county season, thereby making more players available to their clubs for the months of July and August.

Director General Paraic Duffy stated that if the document was accepted by Central Council, it could go before Congress in February 2017.

Under the new arrangement, 24 county sides would exit the All-Ireland race by the third week of July - a fortnight earlier than present. Extra-time would be introduced in place of replays, the league final would be brought forward by two weeks and the Ulster Championship preliminary round would be played on the same weekend as a first-round fixture.

Duffy admits there are other ways and means of tightening up the fixtures calendar to allow more time for club activity.

At the document launch at Croke Park yesterday, Duffy said: "The big point, and this is a huge point for me, is that currently if you're a club player, you won't see your inter-county colleagues for as long as the county team is involved in the All-Ireland.

"Clubs get no value out of their inter-county players. They might play the odd league game in some counties but a lot of them don't play much.

"The time when clubs want their players back is when county duty is over and those players can give their full attention to the clubs. The earlier the inter-county season finishes, the better it will be for the clubs."

However, close scrutiny throws up some alarming scenarios.

Under the new proposals, an Ulster side could end up playing a whopping 11 Championship games (winning a provincial preliminary round, getting defeated in the first round, having four All-Ireland qualifier games, three group stage games, a semi-final and a final) to win a Sam Maguire, leaving the entire process highly questionable.

It also mitigates against smaller counties reaching an All-Ireland semi-final, such as Fermanagh in 2004, Wexford in 2008 or Tipperary this season.

However, another measure holds that in the first three rounds of the qualifiers, counties from Division Three and Four get home advantage over counties from the top two tiers, while both All-Ireland semi-finals being played over one weekend is sure to quicken the pulse.

Duffy and GAA President Aogan O'Fearghail also confirmed that additional funds generated from the group stage quarter-finals would be ring-fenced for development and coaching in 'less successful' counties.

"There is a willingness already to invest in developing the games," said Duffy. "The revenue generated won't be huge.

"The gates generated at provincial venues is not nearly as good as for games played at Croke Park but presuming it will bring extra revenue, Central Council will decide where it is best spent.

"There is no point in developing stadia all around the country and not using them."

What it means

Quarter-finals revamp: Under proposals, the quarter-finals would now become two groups of four, each team playing in Croke Park and home and away.

Semi-final spectacular: The All-Ireland semi-finals would be played over a single weekend, with games on Saturday and Sunday.

Bigger safety net: It might now be possible for a team to lose three Championship matches, but win Sam Maguire.

Ulster says no?: It could take an Ulster side 11 games to win Sam.

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