By Fiona O’Brien
The structure of the GAA championship will be dramatically altered after motions passed at Congress in Croke Park over the weekend.
Many players, managers and officials have already criticised the new structure, which will see both All-Ireland finals played in August and the ‘Super 8’ system replacing the current quarterfinals in the football.
Much of the debate has centred around how the new football system, two round-robin groups of four, will further distance the lower tier teams from the more established counties.
It will come in for three years from 2018, despite 70 per cent of inter-county players opposing it.
The four provincial champions and the four provincial runners-up, or the team that beat them in round four of the qualifiers, will be sorted into two groups of four. Each team will play one home game, one away game and one game in Croke Park, with the top two teams in each group progressing to the semi-finals.
The motion was passed with 76 per cent of the vote, which chiefs of player representative groups said highlighted the ‘disconnect’ between administrators and the men on the field.
The level of disrespect shown to both club and county GAA players today is staggering. #Congress2017
— Eamon Mc Gee (@EamonMcGee) February 25, 2017
The GPA’s (Gaelic Players’ Association) new CEO Dermot Earley said Croke Park didn’t consult players enough when putting their proposals together. “I’m disappointed on behalf of our players. The big issue is they felt they weren’t consulted,” he said. “Paraic Duffy would have felt that there was a lot of consultation that took place, but there’s still a disconnect between going down and speaking to players and going and speaking to clubs.
“We actually surveyed our players, got down to each and every county panel, and they came back quite unanimously that they were against this. The so-called lower tier counties felt there was nothing in it for them.
“The Super 8s will do nothing to help weaker counties, do nothing to close the gap between haves and have-nots. It will reduce the likelihood of unexpected results in knock-out games and reduce the incentive for winning a provincial title.
“They might have said they consulted with everyone, but they didn’t get down and consult with the players, which is what we did.
“It was quite clear that 70 per cent of the players came back not in favour of this. I’m just disappointed that voice was ignored.
“One of the arguments is that ‘we have consulted with the county boards’, but did they actually go and consult with the players?”
The CPA (Club Players Association) boss Declan Brennan said that a lot of the motions confirmed ‘the disconnect from top to bottom’.
But GAA Director General Paraic Duffy dismissed the criticism of the championship reform.
“What do you expect me to say? This has been debated for six months, eight months in every club in the country. You heard it all,” he said. “What’s my reaction? 74 per cent to 26 – that’s democracy. I didn’t like some recent results in elections home and abroad, but that’s democracy. I said in an interview on Thursday – whatever the decision was, I would accept it and I would expect other people to be the same.”
Prior to the vote he had told the room: “Irish society is changing very fast. We have to be aware of that and we have to adapt to that. Falling attendances is an issue we have to address. We have to try something.
“What have we got to lose by passing this motion? The answer is nothing. All we’re asking you is to give an idea a trial run. Nothing that is done here today cannot be undone.
“What are we afraid of? We have nothing to lose, but we could have a lot to gain. Let’s have the confidence in ourselves that could rejuvenate the Football Championship.”
— Kevin Reilly (@kevreilly1) February 25, 2017
Supporters for the new trial said that it will lead to more big championship games and additional revenue for the GAA. The moving of the All-Ireland senior finals was supported by all counties who spoke, apart from Cork, as secretary Frank Murphy argued that as a county so invested in both codes, they would find it extremely difficult to schedule club games during the summer if the inter-county championship is condensed.
A total of 78 per cent of delegates voted for the move to August from 2018 to 2020. It is likely that the All-Ireland senior football final will take place on August 27 and the hurling decider two weeks earlier on August 13.
Hurler of the year, Waterford’s Austin Gleeson tweeted his thoughts on the change, stating: “The huge talk the last few years is player burnout yet they condense the championship meaning less time for rest and recovery #PlayersRights”
One of the issues to dominate GAA debate over the past few months has stemmed from the founding of the CPA. Joint-proposers Wexford and Tipperary withdrew their motion to have the CPA formally recognised as ‘the official representative body for club players at all grades eligible to play for adult teams’.
The CPA was discussed at length and due to negative reaction and judging the mood in the room it was clear it wouldn’t have passed so they decided it would be best to wait for further consultations rather than send out a negative message to club players with a massive ‘no’ vote.
Afterwards the CPA’s Brennan said: “The withdrawing of the motion was greeted with applause in the room – I think it sums up the disrespect they have for all players #bigmistake’.
Elsewhere, the Congress voted in favour of Motion 6, a motion to apply extra-time to All- Ireland games, except provincial and All-Ireland finals, doing away with replays. The motion was passed with 91 per cent of the vote.
The other big change made sees a reduction in the size of the voting majority required to change a rule. From next year it will drop from two thirds to 60 per cent.
Also decided was the introduction of a rule which makes betting on a game in which one is involved a discredit to the GAA offence with penalties for an individual ranging from eight weeks to expulsion.
The GPA were given the power to put forward one motion to Congress every year and from next year, Christy Ring Cup winners will be allowed to compete in the All-Ireland SHC qualifiers in the same year they claim the second tier competition title.