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Revamp can be game changer

By Peter Canavan

On the face of it, the provincial Championships can strike the casual observer as being remarkably healthy at times. Watching finals played in sunny days with lots of colour can easily seduce you.

There were big days out in Killarney, Roscommon and Clones last weekend, with great atmosphere at each venue.

In Ulster, a very absorbing, tactical final kept everyone spellbound.

The football might not have been top-class in Killarney, partly due to the conditions.

It starts to go pear-shaped in Connacht. Such a one-sided final only adds to the detractors of the provincial Championships.

It gets no better in Leinster. Apart from the Meath-Westmeath tie, the rest of the games were dull and predictable.

But where can we go from here? Is there another approach?

Recently, the GPA released their proposals for revamping the All-Ireland Championship. It is a long-running debate, with former President Sean Kelly putting his own ideas forward a few years ago.

With every proposal, we need to see the merit in each to come up with the ideal solution for players, managers and the GAA at large.

I have my own ideas, presented here. I also believe that any possible change for the football Championship should be given three years as a trial period, with a by-product of freeing up more weekends for club action.

That means the club scene finishing entirely by December. There already has been some opposition to this from county boards, but this method ensures they would be able to get all their competitions run off comfortably.

There should be no more replays in my proposal. Club Championships will also be the same, with extra-time for a drawn game, and a 'Golden Score' if teams remain level after that.

This one rule change would revolutionise the game. It might not go down well with administrators but it would certainly clean up the calendar, give supporters an extra dimension of excitement and I don't think players would object to it either.

A proper fixture calendar would serve the players better, allowing them to plan training and holidays.

There is a lot of disaffection among club players that I don't think existed so much years ago.

Philip Jordan wrote a column a few weeks back highlighting it perfectly. He made the point that while you are with the county team, you are single-minded. You are into getting yourself into the best possible shape, doing whatever is best for you, so that you can make an impact with the county.

You are not overly concerned if club games are called off or rescheduled, as it leaves you fresher and fitter. Philly was speaking from the perspective of somebody who was always on the first fifteen.

Since his retirement, he has identified how the club player suffers at the behest of the county team and sloppy fixture scheduling.

And this is not even touching on the amount of players on county squads who are fringe players, not getting a regular game of any description, who head to America out of frustration, where at least they will have regular games.

This system has no room for the Dr McKenna Cup or other 'pre-season' competitions. If this is the price we pay for keeping players happy, it's a price we should gladly pay.

So, onto our 'new-look season'.

The National League games are ran off, week after week.

There will be no more league semi-finals and final. The trophy will be presented on the final day of the season, leading to some exciting climaxes. I can picture Marty Morrissey in the helicopter veering from venue to venue according to scorelines on the final Super Sunday.

From that, we go straight into the provincial Championships like we always have, like we always will. They don't change, with the caveat that they will have a factor in seeding the champions

After that concludes, we have a separate competition; a two-tiered All-Ireland football Championship, made up of four groups of four in each level; Senior and Intermediate.

The provincial champions, crowned only a couple of weeks previous, would be seeded and kept apart in the groups. Weekends will consist of four games across the two levels, giving great variety and chopping down on time.

The National League will have relevance because the Senior Championship will be made up of teams in the top two divisions. But the two teams relegated from Division Two - in this case Kildare and Westmeath - would play in the Intermediate Championship.

Their places can be taken by the top twp in Division Three; Armagh and Fermanagh. So even if you are rooted in Division Four, you are only two good league campaigns away from the senior Championship.

The beauty of this system is that it is all about games, games, games.

From my own experience, the best summer of football we ever had was 2005 when games were coming week on week. When there is a vacuum in the calendar, players can train for a month with no game - as a manager, I can say that it can prove difficult to keep a group focused during that period.

Another consideration is where to play the Intermediate finals and semi-finals. They are going to have to be made as attractive as possible.

There is a temptation to play the Intermediate decider before the All-Ireland final, instead of the minors. But for ticketing purposes this cannot be the case. With the current ticketing arrangements for the All-Ireland final, a lot of supporters would miss out on watching their team.

How about the night before it? Put the teams up for the weekend and play it under lights on a Saturday night, creating an 'All-Irelands Weekend' culture.

I know Croke Park is a big draw, but it might be prudent at the start to stage this game in somewhere like Parnell Park, where the atmosphere can be harnessed much better.

For the All-Ireland series, all the games would be played at neutral venues.

The benefit is this; all over Ireland, there are medium size stadia that are never full. If Donegal were to draw Galway, the game could be played at Pairc Sean MacDiarmada, Leitrim's home ground in Carrick-on-Shannon.

Both sets of supporters would travel as they do for games in their own provinces. You also benefit from a decent walk-up crowd of curious locals.

The most exciting game last year in the Championship was Mayo and Kerry's replay in Limerick. This was a point lost in the row over Croke Park being unavailable.

Imagine the Dublin supporters descending on towns and cities all over Ireland, rather than just hanging around Croke Park.

It should not be underestimated, the passion that can be generated by playing in front of a capacity crowd. This would mean that the loyal Hill 16 supporters would have to make a few excursions during the summer.

Maybe that's not a bad thing.

Belfast Telegraph


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