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Axing our provincial scene isn't the answer to All-Ireland reform

By Declan Bogue

WHILE a number of proposals for reforming the All-Ireland football Championship have been presented by vested interests of the GAA, Ryan Feeney does not believe that the Association would be better served by any change that rules out the provincial Championships.

The Ulster Senior Football Championship enjoys an increasing popularity and is the main source of income for the Ulster Council.

While other provinces have increasingly become one-horse races, Feeney believes that there is an ongoing attraction to the Anglo-Celt competition that only the Munster Championship can match.

Feeney told the Belfast Telegraph: "From my point of view, I am pro-provincial Championships. I think they are very important. I am also pro-modernising the fixture calendar. I believe that club football is a very important part of the fixtures calendar and needs to be sacrosanct.

"But I don't believe that the answer is getting rid of the Ulster Football Championship."

Various columnists, not least Jim McGuinness whose ideas for Championship reform owed a significant measure to a previous proposal by former GAA President Sean Kelly, have offered their views on how the football Championship can be re-invigorated by adopting a 'Champion's League' style format.

While McGuinness and Kelly's proposals linked the provincial tournaments back to the All-Ireland race, others such as Joe Brolly have suggested that the GAA should bring in a tiered Championship, something that has proved immensely popular when employed in club Championships.

Feeney outlined his opposition to an open draw by using a stark example.

"If we had a 32-county All-Ireland draw and Derry drew Kerry, and they were to play at a neutral venue, would it attract as many as Derry playing Tyrone in the first round of the Championship? Absolutely not," he argued.

"People are comparing apples and pears. The GAA is not the Premiership. We are an organisation that is about place. We are an organisation about tradition, about rivalry at local level. That's why the provincial Championship is important.

"But for me, it is fundamental. The provincial Championships are sacrosanct. The proof is in the pudding, and people are still coming to our games."

Any solution to the current lethargy around a season that never seems to stop for the more successful club players is to re-imagine the fixtures calendar in tandem with any potential reform of the major GAA tournaments.

Whatever solution is arrived at, Feeney would encourage a nod towards the retention of a provincial Championship.

"I think there is a way of modernising the fixtures calendar, but also making sure the provincial Championships have their place and are connected to the All-Ireland Championships," he added.

"You have to have a provincial Championship that means something in the All-Ireland series.

"Some of the ideas that Paraic Duffy has put forward are revolutionary and they should be studied, because it is all about debate.

"I certainly think there are common sense ideas we can use, but this idea of a 32-county draw, if we go down that route, would be ridiculous."

Belfast Telegraph


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