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Hot topics are up for debate in Central Council

 

By John Campbell

It's not often that meetings of the GAA's all-powerful Central Council spark interest and lively debate outside the corridors of power.

But when the great and the good from within the island's biggest sporting body assemble at Croke Park this weekend, they will be charged with making decisions that could well influence the direction which Gaelic football in particular takes in the future.

Games schedules, a number of amendments to playing rules and the possible enhancement of competition structures will all be to the fore on what already looks like a particularly busy agenda for the Central Council.

At this point in time, only one thing is certain - that the debate is likely to be lively, if not indeed heated, such is the depth of feeling that has been created by the proposals which will be on the table.

GAA President John Horan, who will be overseeing the proceedings, can certainly expect that divergent views will be expressed, particularly in relation to fixtures, which is currently a burning issue within the Association.

Indeed, a review of both national and county fixtures is expected to be called for, while there will also be a refined list of proposed football rule changes up for debate, and discussion will also centre around whether or not to introduce a second-tier All-Ireland Football Championship.

It is thought that the second-tier concept has triggered both positive and negative reaction across the island, although a clearer cut position might emerge during today's discussions.

Traditionally, the wheels of change have tended to turn very slowly within the corridors of the GAA, but a recent raft of alterations - including the introduction of the black card - and a robust desire to have matches decided on the day rather than going to replays have brought a greater intensity to ongoing developments.

This year - for the first time - April was designated as a month free of inter-county activity, while the All-Ireland football qualifiers were started earlier.

However, these two particular moves did not quite have the desired effect, while the Pope's visit meant that the All-Ireland football final could not be staged on the new date of the last Sunday in August as had been planned from last year - it had to be deferred until September 2, and saw Dublin beat Tyrone.

It had initially been hoped that the September-October period would see County Championships completed and meaningful progress made in provincial Club Championships, but no-one could have ever possibly envisaged that the Mullahoran v Banagher Ulster Intermediate Club football semi-final would go to two separate phases of extra-time and a free-kick shoot-out.

It was Mullahoran who dug deep and eventually came out on top after a mammoth battle indeed.

The best-laid plans can go astray, and the GAA authorities have certainly garnered plenty of experience of this over the course of the past 11 months.

From time to time since early January the GAA has been confronted by diverse issues, some of which have seen it cast in an unwelcome light, and in a year too when attendances continued to drop.

Now there is a clear desire to tackle the issues that are currently causing most consternation within the Association, come up with solutions and then move on from there.

Sounds straightforward? I don't think so.

Belfast Telegraph

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