Proposal A to change the All-Ireland football championship was hopeless. So hopeless that it is hard to avoid the suspicion it was included only to encourage delegates to go for Proposal B.
s it turns out, the second option was well off the 60 per cent of votes needed, which is for the better. There is no justification for the destruction of the provincial championships, particularly in Ulster and Connacht.
More than that, there is absolutely no need to destroy them. Proposal B was rejected because although they were nominally retained, in truth it relegated them to the McKenna Cup and the FBD League.
In Ulster, our foremost desire is to be Ulster champions. In Connacht, Roscommon, Mayo and Galway can win it in any given year. With the second option, the provincial championships would have been demoted to a stand-alone tournament to start the season, with no incentive for winning.
This is mystifying, since the Seán Kelly/Jim McGuinness proposal contained a simple formula to do all the things that Proposal B sought to achieve (the league being the primary source for Sam Maguire seeding) while guaranteeing that vibrant provincial championships would continue (at least in Ulster and Connacht) by giving the winners automatic seeding in the top 16. So, in 2020, Cavan would have been included. In 2019, Roscommon.
I do not understand why the Kelly/McGuinness plan was not on the agenda. Had it been, it would most certainly have been passed.
The reason Proposal B failed, was because it effectively removed the provincial championships. Why on earth would the provincial delegates, the Ulster counties or Connacht counties vote for it? Also, as a rule of thumb, if the GPA is in favour of something, it should be rejected, as they are an elitist Dublin-centric organisation with zero interest in the ideals of the GAA.
The GAA needed to be radical, and this was the time to do it. Everyone accepts that the current system is wholly dysfunctional, with several vast humiliations in the most recent championship leaving all of us feeling queazy.
We are unique. Because of our club and county allegiances and our amateur status, we cannot create an equal championship. The only way to do this would be to redraw the county boundaries or to create super teams in each province where the best players from each county would be chosen for All-Star teams.
Since this is not possible in our culture, we must concentrate on a core principle of respect for every county, allowing their players and communities to feel that they are a valuable and cherished part of the football championship. The Kelly plan achieves this, since it affords every county its proper respect.
It links the league, provincial championships, and All-Ireland series, incentivises every game, and establishes a serious second tier All-Ireland. The crucial thing is that there must be guarantees written into the proposal that the second tier will be afforded exactly the same respect as the Sam Maguire.
From the semi-final stage onwards, the Tier 1 and Tier 2 games would be played at Croke Park on the same day, one after the other. The finals would both be played on All-Ireland finals day, one at 2pm, the other at 4pm. The finalists in both tiers would be treated exactly the same, with the same ticket allocations, the same perks, the same team holidays afterwards. The prize of an All-Ireland final in front of 82,000 people, on live telly, for the Tier 2 finalists is enough to set any young man’s pulse racing.
I would also have an All-Star team for each tier, both chosen at the same glitzy gala, both teams travelling abroad for the annual exhibition games and boozy holiday. We need to stop treating the smaller counties as second class citizens, mere cannon fodder for the Dubs and Kerry and Mayo.
The GAA should now focus on the Kelly plan, using it as the basic template and making tweaks that could improve it. The options put forward to Congress yesterday were in turn useless and not bad. We can do a lot better than not bad. The Kelly plan is a lot better. Nothing radical happens in the GAA until it is voted down at least once. After yesterday, we know exactly what needs to be done. After 130 years, we can wait another year or two to do it right.
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