The GAA’s Special Congress takes place tomorrow where the future shape of the football Championship is down for debate. Coming into tomorrow’s Special Congress there’s a distinct feeling that change is in the air, though it’s still far from clear how the key vote will go.
Proposal A – which is centred on reconfiguring the four provinces into four groups of eight – is dead on arrival so all of the focus has turned to Proposal B, which would see the Championship subsumed in what is currently the National League, with the new structure combining a series of League games, followed by a knockout phase leading to an All-Ireland decider.
Opinion has been sharply divided on the issue of structural reform – the voting in the poll here on the blog as well as the discussion that’s been going on about it confirms this – but it’s clear that Proposal B comes into tomorrow’s Special Congress with significant momentum behind it. The GPA led from the front on this issue and in recent days others have come on board too, notably the current President and DG of the GAA.
The roll-call of counties declared to date has Proposal B in front but several have yet to announce which way they’ll go. Some have, rather ludicrously, given their delegates a free vote on the issue, as if it’s some kind of vote of conscience.
Mayo GAA announced today that they would be voting against both Proposals A and B tomorrow. We’re one of just five counties to have stated their public opposition to the mooted changes.
The vote looks set to go down to the wire. A strong sentiment among those in favour of change is that such is the momentum for reform right now, the moment needs to be seized in case this opportunity doesn’t come around again soon. If there are problems with the new structure, then these can be ironed out down the road.
For those more sceptical of change, the sense is that Proposal B as it stands is flawed and so voting in a new structure that has obvious flaws makes little sense. Far better to wait and refashion the structure into a format that has a better chance of standing the test of time.
As I’ve said before, I’d be in the latter camp. While I’m strongly in favour of a radical overhaul of the Championship structure, the Proposal B approach just doesn’t make sense. The routes to qualification for the knockout phase – involving all four Divisions – are daft and appear to be wedded to the idea that every county has to have a shot at Sam.
Personally, I think the root cause of many problems with football at the current time stems from the League structure that has been in place since 2008. This has led to the ultra-competitive Division One and while this has given us many decent League games, it has also largely cut adrift every county outside the top tier.
As I mentioned the other day, the notion Colm Keys in the Indo floated of a structure based on Division 1A and 1B – with the top four from each qualifying for the quarter-finals, perhaps with the fourth-placed teams in each group having to play a preliminary quarter-final against the top teams in 2A and 2B – would seem to avoid the problems that Proposal B has. The cream will still rise to the top but a wider spread of counties would be exposed to top tier action and the hope would have to be that, in time, the gap between the current small elite group and the rest would narrow.
There are, for sure, other variants that could work equally well. But tomorrow’s not about that and instead the choice at the Special Congress is, in effect, between Proposal B and a return to the system that operated up to 2017.
Everyone knows that the old system is broken and it could be that that knowledge alone may prove sufficient to propel Proposal B over the line tomorrow. But if it isn’t then another year of underwhelming provincial fare and turgid qualifier battles before the show finally gets on the road at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage is what’s in store next year.
Maybe that’s no bad thing. If reform is voted down tomorrow there’s no reason why this should be viewed as the end of the matter. Another year of the old system might not be the most eloquent way to make the case for radical change but it could turn out to be the most effective.
The momentum for change right now is real and there’s a huge temptation to bank this sentiment. I get that but I still think that grasping to claim this bird in the hand would be a mistake for reasons that would rapidly become apparent.
If the will truly is there for major reform then there’s a lot to be said for the idea that a small bit of additional time should be taken to finesse the reform proposals further. Once the preferred format is settled on, the GAA’s leadership would then need to throw its full weight behind selling it and making sure it secures the backing of the association.
That format patently isn’t Proposal B but what Proposal B has done is make the case for reform incontrovertible. For that alone, we should be thankful for it but not thankful enough to see it voted through tomorrow.