There was a strange sense of nervousness in the usually polished Paraic Duffy as the GAA Director General launched a proposal to revamp the GAA All Ireland Football Championship in Croke Park yesterday.
This was the result of months of detailed thought, planning, consultation and conversation.
Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth that has gone on over how the game is in a terrible state, albeit one that will have attracted over 120,000 fans to Croke Park over seven days, there was no rush to judgement.
Beat of the Summer
This was the result of calm reflection. The GAA does that well. But still there was an unease that it was about changing the beat of the summer.
There is the suggestion of provincial championships ending earlier in the season and as many as 24 teams shortening their Championship odyssey or sentence – depending on your perspective – some three to four weeks earlier than would be the case in the current structure.
There were a couple of key elements that ran through all the consultation. No appetite to abolish the Provincial Championships but a need to condense the season and get players back to Clubs earlier.
The proposal means that the four winner of the Provinces, together with four who come through a revised and streamlined qualifier stage as their second chance will play in two group stages for the right to play in semi finals, both of which will be staged on one mega weekend in August.
If it were in this year we would have had Kerry, Galway, Donegal and Clare on one side; Tyrone, Dublin, Tipperary and Mayo on the other. They would each play three matches in the group and the top two would go forward. They would be big games, big enough to attract a big crowd and set the summer alight.
They will have a narrative, a sense of occasion and the chance for all of the better players to get more Championship experience.
While it was largely unsaid yesterday they also provide more for the sponsors and the media companies who are such key financial supporters of the Association.
None were rushing to comment on the proposals yesterday but from the perspective of AIB and Supervalu, bringing more games to regional centres, as this will, can only be good for their own nationally distributed teams and locations.
eir will look on the larger number of games, and the prospect of head to head games opening up new avenues for television broadcast, which is of such importance now in the era of eir Sport.
We asked the question of Duffy yesterday whether the broadcast deal currently under negotiation would be impacted by a change in structure that come come one year in to a three year span.
He assured us that nothing had been signed as yet and so everything could and would be accommodated depending on whether the proposal is accepted.
We now enter a kind of no mans land. The consultation paper is now out there. If agreed at central level in November, as seems most likely it will go to the 2017 Congress via a series of motions that will need to get a 2/3 majority to pass.
If that happens, and every effort of comfort and persuasion needed will now be addressed to making it so, the changes could be in place for 2018.
In our view it looks like a winner. It is ‘modest’ in the words of Duffy but that hides the detail that has gone into its careful construction.
It will be good for more counties and with reference made to lower ticket prices for the greater number of games it will not be the burden on fans that might otherwise have cried ‘enough’ in terms of supporting their team.
County sponsors will also have more room to activate their deals locally, away from the more structured and tightly controlled arena of Croke Park and that will help at the next level.
There may be unintended consequences which emerge. There is the relationship to the Hurling Championship calendar to consider as well but this is a template which is now out there for the democratic moves to shape and perhaps shift. It is progress though and that is to be applauded.
Here are the full details of the proposed changes:
Knock-out format as at present
ALL-IRELAND QUALIFIER SERIES
Round 1: Sixteen teams that do not qualify for provincial semi-finals
Round 2: Eight round 1 winners play eight defeated provincial semi-finalists
Round 3: Eight round 2 winners play each other on an open-draw basis
Round 4: Four round 3 winners play four provincial runners-up
(i) A Division 3 or 4 team drawn against a Division 1 or 2 team in rounds one, two or three of the qualifiers will be granted an automatic home-venue advantage.
(ii) The format of ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides to the qualifier draw will be ended.
The current quarter-final stage of the championship to be replaced by a Group Stage, contested by the four provincial champions and the four round 4 qualifier winners.
The group stage will be organised on a league basis with two groups of four teams, with each team playing the other three teams once.
After the group stage is completed the top two teams in each group will progress to the All-Ireland semi-final with the Group 1 winner playing the Group 2 runner-up and the Group 2 winner playing the Group 1 runner-up
Order of fixtures in both groups
Team 1 v Team 2. Croke Park
Team 3 v Team 4. Croke Park
Team 1 v Team 3 or 4. Home advantage for provincial champions.
Team 2 V Team 3 or 4. Home advantage for provincial champions.
Team 1 v Team 3 or 4. Home advantage for Team 3 or 4.
Team 2 v Team 3 or 4. Home advantage for Team 3 or 4.
Home venues shall be subject to approval by the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) and shall meet the criteria set down by the National Facilities/Health and Safety Committee. CCCC shall make the draws for Rounds 2 and 3.
The above fixtures format for the group stage means that each team will have one game in Croke Park,
one home game and one away game.
Tie-breakers in the event of teams finishing level on points (in order of application):
(i) Result of game between two tied teams (only where two teams are level on points)
(ii) Score difference
(iii) Highest score for
(iv) Goals scored
(v) Play-off match
Group 1 winner v Group 2 runner-up
Group 2 winner v Group 1 runner-up
(to be played over one weekend)