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Explainer: What's the story with the big football championship vote at Special Congress today?

We break down everything you need to know ahead of the vote.

A view of a voting machine at Congress.
A view of a voting machine at Congress.
Image: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

TODAY’S SPECIAL CONGRESS has been built up as a defining day for the All-Ireland senior football championship. 

Kicking off in Croke Park at 11am, delegates will vote on a number of motions. The most important of those relates to the proposed resructuring of the football championship.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Why is it a Special Congress?

Because the GAA’s annual Congress back in February was held virtually, several key motions were deferred for a Special Congress to be held at the end of the season. This was to facilitate a full and more robust debate where it was anticipated delegates could attend in person.

Special Congress was initially due to be held on 18 September, before being pushed back by a month. This was to coincide with the easing of Covid restrictions, while Croke Park were keen to give counties more time to discuss the two football structure recommendations put forward by the fixtures review committee.

2. What’s up for debate?

The two football championship proposals will take the majority of the limelight.

10 motions in total were deferred, including two relating to restructuring of the football championship: Motion 18 (Proposal A) and Motion 19 (Proposal B). 

skysports-gaa-proposal-a_5445719

skysports-gaa-proposal-b_5445721

The GPA also released an excellent explainer on Proposal B, which you can watch here.

Proposal A will go to the floor first. If it does not receive 60% support, the delegates will vote on Proposal B. If that is also unsuccessful, the Central Competitions Control Committee will recommend to Central Council that the ‘status quo’ structure – with the Tailteann Cup and knock-out All-Ireland quarter-finals instead of the Super 8s – be implemented for 2022. 

The only other motion of note relates to players lining out with clubs outside of Ireland on licences to play in the US, Canada, Australasia and Europe.

It will replace the old sanction system. If Motion 15 is approved, no player named on an inter-county senior championship list can be issued with a licence until his team is eliminated from the inter-county championship. 

The rest of the motions are administrative in nature. For more information on the other motions, click here

3. Who has a vote?

183 delegates in total have a secret ballot vote at Special Congress, which has reduced numbers compared to the regular Congress. Votes are proportioned based on the number of clubs in each county, with every county board holding between two and five delegates.

90 votes will come from the 32 counties in Ireland. The overseas bodies account for 34 votes, while the rest comes from Central Council (52) and former GAA presidents (7).

The Central Council tally includes a vote for president Larry McCarthy, ex-president John Horan, Britain GAA chairman Noel O’Sullivan, Association trustees John Joe Carroll (Kerry) and Ned Quinn (Kilkenny). It also includes a vote apiece for the GPA, Primary Schools, Post-Primary Schools, Third Level and Handball. 

60%, or 110 votes, are required for a proposal to be passed. 

larry-mccarthy GAA president Larry McCarthy. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

4. Why is the changing the football champ such a hot topic?

There’s a general sense that the All-Ireland senior football championship is no longer fit for purpose. Kerry, Dublin and Mayo/Galway have dominated their respective provinces, while the minnows receive yearly hammerings by the big guns. 

The provincial format, essentially the same since the GAA was established in 1888, is lob-sided and unequal.

While Ulster boast an entertaining championship, it’s far more difficult for sides from the northern province make the All-Ireland series in comparison with Kerry and Dublin, who arrive into the latter stages of the competition untested.

Given the time commitments required to play inter-county football, players from weaker counties have grown tired of playing two or three championship games before their season is ended. 

The introduction of round-robin provincial formats revolutionised the hurling championship. If there is no change to football, hurling will dominate the summer coverage (aside from the odd game in Ulster) until the All-Ireland football quarter-final stage.

Proposal A is a dead duck at this stage and it’s unlikely to get a single vote today, so the focus will be solely on Proposal B.

6. Who wants Proposal B?

80% of inter-county players polled are in favour of Proposal B, which would be the most radical reform of the championship in history.

The GPA, led by Tom Parsons, have endorsed it, in addition to president Larry McCarthy, director-general Tom Ryan and former president John Horan.

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It’s believed around 80% of inter-county managers are also in favour of Proposal B. 

Around 15 counties have expressed their support for Proposal B (Cork, Tipperary, Clare, Wexford, Carlow, Kildare, Meath, Louth, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly, Sligo, Roscommon, Leitrim and Down) while it’s anticipated Limeirck, Waterford, Laois and Dublin will also back it. 

motion-57-is-passed A motion being passed at Congress. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

7. Who are main people against it?

The majority of opposition comes from Ulster where Down are the only county to break from the province and announce their support for Proposal B.

Fermanagh, Armagh, Derry and Donegal have confirmed their intentions to oppose it, with Tyrone, Antrim, Monaghan and Cavan expected to join them on the day,

In Connacht, Mayo and Galway have also been mandated to reject Proposal B in favour the status quo. The four provincial councils have also voiced their opposition to the motion and prefer the status quo with a view to bringing round-robin formats to the provincial championships down the line.

8. What chance has Proposal B of success?

It’s expected to go right down to the wire.

The overseas bodies, with 34 delegates and a further four on Central Council, will have a major say on the day. It’s believed many of the foreign units are leaning towards Proposal B, but that’s still unclear at this stage. 

The debate on the floor could also sway some delegates who are set to make up their minds on the day.

Proposal B will likely get between 55%-65% of the votes, showing how tight it will be.

However the groundswell of support for change means it is inevitable. If Proposal B is defeated today, there’s every chance a new format will return to the clár next February to be brought into play by the 2023 season.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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