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GPA to go down diplomatic route to get Championship change

Players body chief executive firmly believes a championship restructure can be successfully implemented at next year’s Congress vote.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

TOM PARSONS, THE chief executive of the Gaelic Players Association (GPA), plans to go down the diplomatic rather than militant route to try and persuade a number of doubting administrators to take a leap of faith and change the structure of the Gaelic football championship.

While the initial attempt to change the Championship format from a knock-out element to a league system failed in a vote on Saturday, agents for change are planning a second attack in February.

That is when the GAA’s annual Congress is held – (Saturday’s vote was at Special Congress where GAA administrators voted on one sole issue, namely retaining or changing the format of the Gaelic football season).

Over 51 per cent of delegates did vote for change but the proposal needed 60 per cent backing for it to come into effect.

The issue for the GPA, who represent inter-county players, is that they sought the opinion of their members and a staggering 80 per cent of those surveyed voted for radical change. The Association’s two most senior administrators, Director General Tom Ryan and President Larry McCarthy, also spoke in favour or Proposal B, which essentially turned the Championship into a league with 10 teams qualifying from this part of the championship to then contest the final stages of the All-Ireland SFC.

Now, a few days on, Parsons firmly believes that if this proposal can be tweaked to alleviate the fears of the counties who voted against the plan on Saturday, then a revised plan can be successful in February’s Congress.

“We won a majority and that in itself is a mandate for change,” Parsons said in an interview with Off The Ball Am, this morning.

“So that gives us a really good foundation to push it on for next year.

“The good thing is that 80 per cent of players really, really wanted this. It landed with just over 50 per cent of the vote.

“I was surprised that a number of the stronger Division 1 teams, Mayo, Galway, it looked like Kerry as well, voted against it. That came down to a small tweak in relation to team six in Division 1 not progressing through to the knock-out stages.”

Here Parsons was referring to the Proposal B format of the new Championship, whereby the leading five Division One teams would qualify for the knock-out stages. The GPA believe that if that proposed plan was tweaked to include a sixth Division One team then it may pass in a new vote in February.

“I always said what we needed here was a leap of faith where we can tweak and we can change at some stage down the line,” said the Gaelic Players’ executive.

“That small change we can make to alleviate those fears.

tom-parsons Tom Parsons speaking at Congress. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“The challenge here is that we all worked so hard to even get that 51 per cent so there is going to be a challenge to even maintain that 51 per cent support that we got and then make the sort of changes we need to ensure we bring the Galways, Donegals, Mayos and Kerrys with us.

“The debate on the floor on Saturday was really good. I was really disappointed that it didn’t reach 60 per cent but was really proud when administrators from counties like Sligo, Offaly, Cork, Leitrim, Clare fought really hard for their players on the floor.

“We need to build on that.

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“February is still some time away. Don’t tell me in three or four months that we cannot have something on the table in February.”

To get change, it is clear Parsons and the GPA will seek to meet and negotiate with GAA leaders rather than use aggressive methods.

 “We had a task force that came up with a league based format as our championship,” said Parsons. “We want to build on what we have created and go back to our clubs in January. I will be reaching out to Larry (McCarthy, the GAA President) to see what is the lie of the land.

“The GPA is the players. We elect a committee that steers the direction of the players’ thoughts. It is a positive relationship. I am really proud of the administrators who really fought hard of the players on the floor. We want to increase the number of counties who are speaking on the floor on behalf of the players. Maybe there are some delegates who will never see the GPA in a positive light but that is not within our control.”

He finished off by making two points, first that the vote was positive, secondly that this will also benefit club players, not just inter-county players.

“This didn’t achieve 30 per cent. We are not way off.

“It is the greater good here. It is a really important piece of work not just for players but also supporters. If our game at an inter-county level are not thriving in the Leitrims and Wicklows, they are not going to thrive at club level. There is a ripple effect. Young people want to see their county perform and be proud of them and see they have a chance of success. I would frame it as a key priority for the association.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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