In August, the GAA showcased their proposals for reform of the All-Ireland football championship structure.
The headline change concerned the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
They would be replaced by a round-robin stage, in which the final eight teams standing would be broken into two groups of four. They 'd play each other once. Each team would be guaranteed one game at home, one away game, and one game in Croke Park.
Other reforms included the abolition of replays and the re-arranging of the calendar which, contentiously from Balls.ie's perspective, involved pushing the All-Ireland hurling final into August, crucially before the football semi-finals had been played. There was some other tinkering around the edges with Division 3 & 4 teams guaranteed a home a tie in the qualifiers against an opponent from the top two divisions.
Critics attacked the proposal saying it offered nothing to players from weaker counties and appeared almost designed to increase the gap between the elite and the rest.
Well, this afternoon, the GAA have released a document entitled 'Proposal On A Revised Format For The All-Ireland Senior Football Championship'.
In it they highlight the advantages of the proposed format. And they also respond to what they say are the chief criticisms of the proposal.
Here we summarise the advantages as outlined by the GAA
- Enhances the championship by way of eight additional championship matches involving the best teams
- Will provide a more "exacting pathway" to the All-Ireland semi-finals and ensure the best two teams compete in the All-Ireland final
- Protects provincial championships and underlines its importance as the champions will march straight into round robin. (The GAA regards this as a positive). Also allows provincial champions the potential to lose at least one game without being dumped out of the championship.
- Will generate increased attendances (which had been falling in recent years, though they acknowledge recession as potential factor)
- Will increase commercial and broadcast income from football championship. The GAA insist a significant proportion of the increase will be ring-fenced for promotion of the games in less successful counties.
- Will guarantee eight additional major games at provincial venues. It will counter some of the Dublin-centred bias of the current structure.
- Will allow for more condensed inter-county season and "a more balanced ratio" of training sessions to matches.
And they attempt to answer the critiques
- Should be geting rid of provinces... "There is no significant support within the GAA for getting rid of the provincial championship.
- Makes it harder for weaker counties to reach Top 4... The GAA's essential argument in response to that one is "Look at Tipp!" There is, they say, "no ceiling on what teams can achieve"
- Stronger teams won't ger caught... The GAA says that "sport is about determining the best performers". The best teams, they say, should contest the All-Ireland championship closing stages. The best teams will "vary year on year", the GAA insist, with touching optimism.
- Changes should have been focused on the bottom... The GAA respond that the weaker counties have consistently shown themselves to be against a second tier competition.
- Will increase the gap between the rich and poor... The GAA is, again, surprisingly blunt about this. They begin by saying "let's accept that it is thoroughly unreasonable to believe every county has an equal chance of winning Sam Maguire". However, they do contend that the system benefits provincial winners who are not always drawn from the strong counties.
- Ulster counties will have to play nine matches to win All-Ireland... "This is an unchangeable fact so let's move on from it."
- Dublin will play two round robin games in Croke Park... It's better than it is now.
- It's all about broadcasters' rights... The GAA say this is "simply untrue. Our games are already attractive to broadcasters." It's about making the game more attractive to members and supporters. And ensuring the best teams play each other plenty.
- Why is hurling calendar being altered? Can't be avoided.
- Is this about making money? "This is a lazy and cynical view." If it was purely for financial gain, they would be abolishing replays, they say. Nor would they propose playing games outside Croke Park.
In the document, they went on to demonstrate how the coming proposal will condense the championship and allow more time for the club game. This despite containing more games.
No attention has been paid to hurling, beyond shunting the All-Ireland into August to make room for more and more football.