By James McMahon
This Saturday, the GAA’s Ard Comhairle will sit down to discuss the second report from the Football Review Committee (FRC).
Last December, FRC chairman Eugene McGee outlined the findings of a consultative process that resulted in some 4,000 people from Ireland and overseas voicing their opinions on the state of Gaelic football.
The majority of those who responded wanted to see a change to the current football championship structure.Taking such views into account, McGee, along with his fellow committee members, came up with a proposal which would involve eight teams competing in each of the four provinces.
What's the current situation and what is envisaged?
As things stand, there are three preliminary matches in the Leinster Championship and one in the Ulster campaign. The FRC propose that the contestants of those games should be determined by their Allianz League positions in the previous year (the six lowest placed Leinster sides would fill that province’s three games; the two lowest Ulster sides would play in their game).
To ensure a 4 x 8 provincial system, the losers of the four matches mentioned above would move province.
A draw would decide which two of the three Leinster losers will move to Munster and which one will move to Connacht. The loser of the Ulster preliminary round game would also move to the western province.
The provincial series would then begin with eight teams in each province.
For those counties that had to move province there would be the compensation of an additional game – a back-door opportunity if they were defeated in their new surroundings.
The FRC proposal envisages 16 provincial quarter-finals played over two weekends, and the eight provincial semi-finals also played over consecutive weekends.
The respective finals will take place over two weekends in July. The All-Ireland quarter-finals would take place in early August. There will be no change in the dates for the All-Ireland semi-finals and final.
The qualifier system will also remain unchanged.
The above proposals ensure that the vast majority of the runners in the race for the championship start more or less at the same time.
Over the years, many have been critical of the low-key start to the summer campaign. Were the proposals adopted, of the 16 games to be played over the opening two weekends, you can be sure that there would be more than a few to whet the appetite.
Depending on their progress, all counties would know exactly when they’d be in action. This will provide an opportunity for playing club championship games across the summer months in all counties and so reduce any fixture congestion in the months of September and October.
"The championship is too drawn out" is a familiar refrain.The proposed structure would end the situation where currently it takes over two months to play off a Connacht championship that involves just seven teams, while also seeing others beginning their campaign nearer to the end of June.
The integrity of the provincial system, so sacred to many within the GAA, would be kept intact.
Losers in the preliminary round in Leinster and Ulster would be guaranteed at least three matches.
Finishing the championship in the month of August has been mooted by some as a way of tightening up the schedule. The FRC proposals, however, safeguard the traditional September date for the Sam Maguire presentation.
Some counties have expressed their dissatisfaction and would prefer to stick with the current structure.
In hurling, the idea of Galway and Antrim moving to Leinster and gaining competitive provincial action early in the summer can only be a benefit. If the new structure was adopted, though, what advantage would it be, for example, for Carlow to face Kerry in a Munster quarter-final?
In football, asking counties to relocate to another province for part of the summer may prove to be a hard sell. Would the ‘weaker’ counties in Connacht and Munster accept the new arrivals with the open arms?
The preliminary-round losers in Leinster and Ulster at a minimum will play three championship games under the FRC proposals. However, other counties may voice disapproval if this is seen to be a reward for losing twice in different provinces.
Using Allianz League placings to determine who plays in the respective preliminary round games may prove problematic: is it fair that teams ranked lowest in the spring campaign are guaranteed three games come summer time, while those who finished higher are assured of only two?
Where exactly in the calendar will the hurling championship fit in under the FRC proposals?
What could happen?
The 4 x 8 provincial idea makes sense. The problem will be for the Connacht and Munster councils to accept ‘outsiders’ in their respective campaigns.
A 4 x 8 would work better if there was no relocation. To that end, a re-drawing and re-naming of the provincial system would have to take place. What might emerge would be northern, eastern, southern and western councils.
There would still have to be some persuasion. Would Donegal or Longford, for example, move to the west? Could Laois be tempted to go south?
The weekend deliberations on what the FRC has proposed will attract much interest. Also on the agenda are proposals to scrap the League Division 1 semi-finals, re-launching the inter-provincial competition and lowering the minor grade age group to under-17.