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Dublin: 12°C Saturday 19 September 2020

Cork's radical plan is defeated but issue for GAA at a national level is not going to go away

The same problems persist at club level around the country.

St Finbarr's and Imokilly are the county senior champions last year in Cork.
St Finbarr's and Imokilly are the county senior champions last year in Cork.
Image: INPHO

ULTIMATELY THE HEADLINE-grabbing option, that could well have caused a ripple effect around the country, was shelved. 

Delegates in Cork gathering in Páirc Uí Chaoimh last night opted for change, just not the type of seismic change that would have paved the way for club championship games to proceed without the presence of county players.

When a board plans to implement a new structure for their local championships, it generally only moves the dial within their county boundaries as the remainder of the GAA community are not engaged.

But Option C in Cork’s club championship review was never going to be a strictly local matter, the ramifications could have been far-reaching if a county opted to plough ahead with their championship programme of games even if their leading lights were absent due to county duties.

Debate spread like wildfire over the last week but in the deliberations that mattered last night the proposal received just under a quarter of the vote. Option B, which would have kicked the starting date down the road until August, trailed in last of the three.

Option A was carried with a healthy majority as it received over 60% of the votes. The most positive upshot is an overhaul of the current Cork system that sees grades bloated by large numbers of clubs. It streamlines it into four grades of 12 – Premier Senior, Senior A, Premier Intermediate and Intermediate A – and restores a simple promotion-relegation system. An injection of greater competitiveness is something the flagging Cork club scene badly needed.

But the rubber-stamping of a new structure from 2020 on is not a complete solution. Far from it. There may be a greater co-relation between the games in April and August due to the group stage format yet shutting down championship affairs in the prime summer months cannot constitute a progressive step. There may be greater clarity for clubs and players in the fixture scheduling yet the frustration remains of being placed in cold storage during the seasonally best time of the year for games.

That problem is not just the preserve of Cork, they like all other counties are operating within the constraints of the inter-county model that continues to place the squeeze on all championships at a local level.

It would have been interesting to see the impact if the radical blueprint had been adopted, the provision of meaningful summer matches for the majority at grassroots level to coincide with the games featuring the minority at elite level.

It was found to be unpalatable in Cork but it has felt like a matter of time that some county would arrive at that conclusion and proffer it as an option. Who will be next to try to take a similar step?

It should be a warning sign to the GAA at national level. They may be relieved that this principle has not been adopted yet it could well resurface. If there are plenty in agreement of the need to split the county and club programme into two distinct seasons, there seems little appetite to facilitate this by bringing forward the end date of the All-Ireland championships further.

The interminable debate rages on over how to solve the GAA fixtures crisis. Change at national level does not appear to be in the offing and with that context in mind, is there value in counties waiting around over the next few years in the hope that a solution arrives? It could be argued that Cork’s decision to consider change was rooted in desperation but it was also imaginative and thought-provoking.

If the inter-county status quo prevails, it seems likely other counties will grasp the nettle to try to enact change for their own difficulties.

Cork’s controversial option may have been seen as the thin end of the wedge but last night’s defeat does not dispel the problems that persist.

A new plan is in place in one county yet the last week reinforced the notion that this simply is an issue that is not going to go away for the GAA nationally.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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