All-Ireland Football Championship restructure: Pros and cons of the two proposals ahead of the GAA’s Special Congress

One-sided contests have dominated this summer’s Football Championship so far.

The 19 matches to date have produced an average winning margin of 11.7, shining a spotlight on the need for a rethink.

There is already a special congress pencilled in for later this year, where the GAA will vote on whether it will introduce one of two new proposals, or stick with the status quo.

On Saturday, the Sky Sports pundits gave their thoughts on the options on the table.

Proposal A

“I think it’s easier to explain what doesn’t work with Proposal A, to be honest,” Peter Canavan said.

“Any system whereby you ask counties in a province to move to another one [will not work]. You are asking Leinster counties to play in Munster, and you are asking an Ulster county to play in Connacht. I think there will be uproar if Fermanagh or Cavan was asked to play in the Connacht Championship.

“Proposal A does nothing to deter the one-sided nature of the provincial championships. So in Leinster, you are still going to have Dublin walking away with it. There will be a lot of meaningless games.

“And the last thing is the Tailteann Cup, which really needs to be bigged up. Teams need an incentive to play for it.

“In this, it’s the fourth-placed team in the group in the province that plays in it. So if you are not deflated already by playing in the Tailteann Cup, you are going to finish fourth in your group and then you have to go out and compete.

“I do not think it is the manner in which to set the competition up. So for me, there are more negatives to Proposal A than there are advantages.”

Proposal A does nothing to deter the one-sided nature of the provincial championships.

Canavan feels the same problems will remain

“I agree with all of that,” concurred Jim McGuinness.

“That’s where the problem lies. You still would not improve football, and you would still have the bigger guns taking on the lesser ranked teams. So that for me does not make any sense. I do not see that being a runner, and I do not think people will vote for that either.”

Kieran Donaghy took issue with moving teams into different provinces:

“You cannot just have a team’s history shot and [say] ‘oh, you move over there, and you move over there because it suits us’.

“That first line in Proposal A about splitting provinces into four, I think that is where it falls for me.”

Proposal B

Donaghy feels there is merit to moving provincial championships to the start of the year.

“I like the idea of provincial championships at that time of year, in a condensed season where we are trying to build up,” he said.

“We often start the season with a bit of a lull. I think this would really be something to look forward to. You have advantages with teams playing locally [early in the year], people travelling to games, bigger numbers going to games.

“Often, our first league game might have been Kerry vs Donegal in Ballybofey. You might only have two buses from Kerry going up. Whereas if it was Tyrone against Donegal in Ballybofey, and people have not seen intercounty football for seven months, Ballybofey would probably be full for that game. So I like the idea of the build-up around it, but there are a few flaws.

“Having teams in Division 1 that are positioned six, seven and eight at the end of the league [phase] being out of it is a flaw for me. Essentially, they are probably better than teams that are still in it.”

Jim McGuinness is of the opinion the provinces need to remain a part of the championship structure.

“It’s the lesser of two evils,” he said.

“It is broken at the moment, there’s no doubt about that.

“I think the provincial championships are being totally devalued here, and to say that they are basically going to be a pre-season tournament. The provincial championships that Peter has won, that I won, are you happy to put them up in the same light as a pre-season tournament that does not have an impact on the championship? So I do not agree with that at all.”

The former Donegal boss fears the provinces would lose relevance and fade out.

“The Railway Cup does not exist anymore,” he compared. “There used to be 60,000 at the games. But it’s gone! And once it’s gone, it’s gone. Once the provincial championships are gone, that we fought all our life to try and win, once it’s gone, it’s not coming back again.

“History is gone, it’s washed away. Maybe it’s ok for teams in other provinces because it does not mean the very same as nine counties in Ulster, but you still have to try and protect that history.”

It is broken at the moment, there’s no doubt about that.

McGuinness stresses there is need for change

Meanwhile, Canavan said there is an onus on provincial councils to keep those competitions relevant.

“I get [Jim’s] point about the provincial championships being devalued, but that is up to the provincial councils and the GAA to make sure they are marketed properly and that is not a devalued competition. They certainly have the competition in Ulster to make sure it’s a meaningful competition,” he said.

“The one thing I think they have to do is to connect the provincial championship and the championship to make sure it’s not completely devalued.

“I still think it’s far better than what we have at the minute. We are all in agreement that change is required.”

Sky Sports’ live GAA coverage continues on Saturday, with the hurling qualifier meeting of Clare and Wexford, before Monaghan and Armagh face off in the Ulster Football Championship semi-final.

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