Cork’s 2010 All-Ireland-winning manager Conor Counihan has welcomed the GAA’s proposed restructure of the Senior Football Championship, but feels it could have financial implications for the so-called weaker counties.
GAA Director General Páraic Duffy announced the changes yesterday, which include adding a group stage to a condensed competition which, Croke Park claim, will aid the club championships.
The proposal seeks to replace the quarter-final stage of the Championship with a round-robin contested by the four provincial champions and the four round 4 qualifier winners.
The two groups of four teams will play one game at home, one game away and one fixture at Croke Park. The teams that finish in the top two positions in each group qualify for the semi-finals, where extra-time will be played if necessary.
Counihan, who led the Rebels to just their seventh Sam Maguire title when they negotiated the backdoor to defeat Down in the decider six years ago, says it is a positive move, though the merits of the provincial system continue to be called into question.
Dublin comfortably claimed their 11th Leinster title in the last 12 years, while either Kerry or Cork have won every Munster senior championship in the past 80 years with the exception of Clare’s win in 1992.
“There’s more balance to it,” Counihan told RTÉ Sport when reflecting on the proposal.
“Previously winning the provincial championship meant a break before the All-Ireland quarter-final, which can work for and against you.
“It is no harm to change when you look at the Leinster Championship in particular, though Dublin is a bit unique at the moment.
“It is good to trial a new system and analyse how it works.”
The Championship has struggled for competitive games, with repeated calls for an overhaul of the provincial systems currently in place.
Tipperary’s unexpected march to the last four has been one of the stories of the summer, but Counihan fears that the new proposal could reduce the element of surprise results and also cautioned the financial impact on weaker teams if they progress further than expected.
“The weaker counties might struggle financially," he said. “It baffles me how these smaller counties achieve what they achieve with the budgets they have.
“The weaker counties might struggle financially. There is a great cost to running a team and can every team sustain that?
“Finance is an important factor.”
The GAA has sought to assure smaller counties that they will not be hindered by missing out on the group stages and insisted that extra revenue would be ring-fenced to aid their development.
The document claimed that: "The new structure should increase commercial and broadcast income from the All-Ireland senior football championship. A significant proportion of this increase should be ring-fenced for development in our less successful counties."
Former Mayo manager John Maughan has welcomed the proposal but cautioned that it doesn’t address the increasingly non-competitive Leinster Championship.
Maughan is satisfied that progress is being made, though suggests the proposal could have been even more radical.
“Most followers would agree that this year’s Championship has been poor with a number of lop-sided games and the tweaking won’t do anything to address the Leinster Championship.
“It has gone a distance, but there are those who would champion a complete Championship restructuring, introducing a group phase from the outset, but the provincial championships seem sacrosanct.
“I welcome the fact they have addressed the problem.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but I believe they could have gone further.”
Martin McHugh meanwhile has voiced his displeasure at the proposal which he believes is both unfair on Ulster teams and doesn’t address the biggest problem facing the GAA – the provincial Championships.
“It’s disappointing,” he told RTÉ Sport.
“I can’t understand why we don’t sensibly sit down and address it. The proposal done up is to try and work around the problem and the problem in the provincial Championships.
"They should be scrapped and done away with.
“The system is not fair. If the proposal was in place this season, Donegal would have to win 11 games to win the All-Ireland, Kerry would have seven."
The proposals will be discussed at the next meeting of Central Council and if passed, will be put to Congress next year.
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