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Comment: How the GAA might look in 2035

By Declan Bogue

It could be argued that the seeds of the structure of the 2018 All-Ireland Football Championship were sown way back in 2001, the first year of the qualifiers system.

Back in the late 1990s, the fledging union that was later to morph into the Gaelic Players' Association were attempting to round up inter-county footballers and hurlers to represent their needs.

Perhaps it was a sense of the type of political progress in the air at the time, but the honour of hosting the first meeting fell to that distinctly non-GAA traditional venue of the Wellington Park Hotel in Belfast on September 15, 1999.

In an interview for RTÉ on the day, a fresh-faced Kieran McGeeney ruled out any chance of pay-for-play.

Their main concern was that the ideas of the players needed to become part of the conversation.

Top of their shopping list was more Championship games at the height of summer.

Although it travelled another route, through the floor at Congress, it still arrived shortly after. The chicken in a basket brigade weren't totally blind to the faults of the system.

Some 17 years later, and the momentum has led to the new structure of the quarter-finals mini-league, labelled in the media as the 'Super-8s', a tag despised by Croke Park.

There are some that feel it is the thin end of the wedge, but let's imagine for ourselves the state of Gaelic football in 2035, with the sport having become professional by that time, of course.

The GAA's press release at the start of the season will read: 'The 2035 All-Ireland Gaelic Football Championship, in association with Walmart, will consist of 12 teams in Ireland, one in England and another in New York, playing a 'Super-14s' format with games home and away.

'Looking fresher than ever, the benefactor of London Irish, Shane MacGowan, is looking forward to being added to the league along with fellow newcomers Big Apples, in association with Apple.'

And so on. Let us explain our vision. The notion of county teams by this stage will be all but extinct.

Wedded to the provincial system, the dozen teams based in Ireland will be grouped into county conglomerates.

In Ulster, the kingpins remain the Tyrone-Derry-Donegal amalgamation, the 'Yes, Sir' Specials, named as such for their affinity and largesse of McDaid's Football Special, a popular soft drink in the area.

Down-Antrim-Armagh are the East Coast Eagles, Cavan-Monaghan-Fermanagh are a particularly well-resourced unit now known as the Kingspan Killas. The other provinces have similar arrangements. There is huge potential in the Boyne Boylans, a Meath-Westmeath-Louth gather-up.

Some county brands were too strong for amalgamations to be considered. Toyota Sky Blues, formerly known as Dublin, refused to compromise in any way. Neymar Jnr Jnr is their star turn at centre-forward, having come to the logical conclusion that there wasn't enough money in soccer to keep the four-day parties going.

Hellman's Mayo were also left untouched, for the craic, as they have been in the last 18 All-Ireland finals and lost every one.

Media relations are different in 2035. Without newspapers to hunt down quotes, the only lads on the hunt for nanny-goats are the virtual reality bots.

Mickey Harte will still be managing the Tyrone side of things by the way, but he is a rarity as some are already discarding the very notion of a gaffer.

Instead, online polls with shareholders of the teams - now known as organisations - will decide the starting line-up, with substitutions made by the same group through an in-game app. Oh what fun among the prawn sandwiches!

Win, lose or draw, there will be pre-written matchday quotes decided upon by an algorithm and live-tweeted at the final whistle from each organisation's official Twitter page.

You just have to wait until seven minutes of advertisements from the official media partners play out before you can get the precious lines stating, 'We came here today and we wanted to win, and we didn't win'.

'Wintertalk' has been driven underground where lonely men gather in their panic rooms and log onto their virtual pub app to judge 'the mood in the county'.

Last week, Ulster Rugby's Luke Marshall revealed in his injury comeback that he played his first game for Ballymena in six or seven seasons. This will have become the norm for clubs.

Glamorous clubs such as Slaughtneil will then be reduced to picking a pub team with the majority signed up to the 70-man county panel. They will play intermittently in between sucking on a Vape and scrolling through social media feeds.

The All-Ireland finals will be scheduled around other events taking place in the Shell Oil Stadium - once fondly known as Croke Park - such as Garth Brooks, Elkie Brooks and the Leo Varadkar Experience.

Belfast Telegraph

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