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'The players clearly want a change' - Explaining the GPA's new football proposals

The new Champions League-style All-Ireland series was unveiled yesterday.

Image: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE

‘WEAKER’ COUNTIES DO not want a two-tier football championship, the Gaelic Players Association said yesterday as they presented their proposals for a radical revamp.

At the heart of the GPA’s blueprint is a Champions League-style All-Ireland series in which 32 counties would be split into eight seeded groups of four.

The changes would retain the National Football League and the provincial championships, and use them to determine counties’ seeding, while condensing the inter-county calendar, improving players’ training to games ratio, and freeing up more time for club games.

“We have been talking about it for too long now,” GPA President Dessie Farrell said.

“Something has to happen and if the desire is there to do it and bring about real change in a genuine way, we’ll come up with the right answer, whatever that way.

But there has to be that desire to make it happen and the players have very clearly indicated that they want a change.

Under the proposed structure, the winner of each All-Ireland group would progress to the last 16 of the championship, with the second- and third-placed teams entering a play-off round, and the bottom team eliminated.

Farrell said that the prospect of a two-tier championship, separating the stronger and the weaker counties, was discussed during their lengthy consultations.

But the overwhelming response from players in the counties concerned was that they wanted to continue to pit themselves against the game’s marquee stars.

“Ultimately there was no appetite to do that,” he explained.

“Based on how this would work, we provided the option originally in our first proposal, that those teams eliminated after the round robin series would go into a separate competition for themselves.

“There were carrots and incentives but they didn’t want it.

“I think one county came back and said, ‘Yeah, but we’d need to know more and what it might look like.’

But everyone else said no, they didn’t want it.

There were discussions about a ‘slimmed-down’ league format but, apart from scrapping the semi-finals and finals, the GPA proposal would retain the existing seven-game structure.

The league would then begin in the middle of February and be run off by the beginning of April, with the provincial championships taking place in April and May.

The All-Ireland series would then begin in early June and finish on the first Sunday in September, with the hurling decider brought forward a week from its traditional date to the last Sunday of August.

“Some proposals came forward that you reduce the league maybe to four or five games and we looked at that as well,” Farrell explained.

“This process kept going over and back but eventually it emerged that the league is considered to be pretty solid as it stands.

There is great interest in the earlier rounds. It probably peters out a little bit as you get to the latter stages of it and that’s where maybe this system – which is directly linked to the All-Ireland series – might generate interest down to the wire.

If adopted, the changes could bring in an estimated €2 million in additional gate receipts, sponsorship and media revenue, the GPA said.

The proposal has been submitted to Croke Park who are expected to review it and other submissions at a Central Council meeting in November.

The GPA has proposed a two-year trial, although any new format will have to be ratified by Congress and would not come into effect until the 2017 season at earliest.

“For a proper debate to happen there needs to be plenty of noise and commentary about proposed changes, wherever they are coming from,” Farrell said.

“And you get to a stage whereby the people who are going to make the decisions, or the people who are responsible in some ways for being obstructive, are seriously seriously challenged around their motivations and their own agendas here in this regard.

“I think it will take discussion, dialogue, possibly some confrontation at various different points on this journey.

What we have at the minute is just not working.

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Niall Kelly

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