Off the Air

Charlie Collins

One more step needed by the FRC

Earlier this week the Football Review Committee (FRC) headed by Eugene McGee once again gave us all something to think about. Indeed, their latest proposals to improve the game and more specifically the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship were made public and make for interesting reading.

This is the same committee who managed to bring the new Black Card system through Congress in Derry earlier this year despite the fact that many felt it would be turned down by the delegates as hard been the case with a number of similar innovative ideas in the past.

However, an address on the day by committee member and former Derry All-Ireland winner Tony Scullion managed to change the opinions of many of those who have looked certain to vote against the proposal.

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This time around he and his fellow committee members are taking on the challenge of addressing another issue which has been the cause of much debate in recent years, that of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championships and, as a consequence, the Provincial Championships.

This column has broached that particular subject on many occasions in the past and while it’s stating the obvious it’s clear to see that change is needed. The present system is not working and while the qualifiers have served a purpose, things need to change.

The big problem remains the provincial championship with just two, Ulster and to a lesser extent Leinster, being competitive.

Mayo have a stranglehold on Connacht while Munster only serves to get Kerry and Cork ready for the latter stages of the All-Ireland series – the last 12 in the case of one and the last 8 in the case of the other depending on who loses out in the final.

That leaves us with Leinster and Ulster and in fairness only Ulster provides us with any real excitement in the early rounds. The 2014 draw for example pairs Tyrone and Down in the preliminary round if any proof was needed.

Eugene McGee was too wise to go back to Croke Park and say that we need to scrap the Provincial Championships because he knows very well what answer he would get yet that is exactly what needs to happen.

Maybe we should follow the Senior Hurling Championship model which has worked so well by moving Antrim and Galway out of their respective province and into Leinster which cuts the provincial championship down to just two.

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2013 provided us with possibly the best ever Senior Hurling Championship and there’s no doubt that the changes made in the provinces and qualifier system have helped in that regard.

If the loser of the Ulster preliminary round went on to win the Connacht Championship – imagine how that would go down among the natives.

Also, if the early losers in Leinster went on and took the provincial crown off Kerry or Cork in Munster.

Those scenarios could happen if the FRC’s proposals are ratified in order to leave four quarter-finals in each province which does make some kind of sense.

I was interested to read the comments of GAA President Liam O’Neill who has called on support of the new proposals and suggested that, otherwise, those opposed to the changes should up with something better.

It’s encouraging because it shows that those in power recognise the need for changes in the Football Championship and we all know that.

Last year I suggested that we could seed teams 1-32 based on their standings in the National Football League, Division 1 to 4, or perhaps scrap the NFL altogether and play the provincial championships earlier in the year.

Last year it took 10 weeks to run off the eight games in the Ulster Championship. You could half that time by doubling up the quarter-finals and semi-finals.

Eugene McGee and his Committee are on the right road but perhaps they might just take one more step down it to get it right.

More Fixture issues

It’s not only nationally that the fixture issue is generating debate. With County Convention taking place on Sunday, two outgoing officers have expressed concern that the Club Championship will not take place next year until Donegal have exited the All-Ireland series.

Clubs have already given their backing to the proposals at a meeting after consultations with Jim McGuinness and then Senior County Board Officials. However, both Sean McGinley, CCC Secretary and Niall Erskine, Central Council delegate, have urged GAA officers to strike a balance and they have warned of a potential crisis in club football in 2014.

Erskine claims that it would be unfair for the County Board to solely focus their efforts on the demands of the County team, suggesting that it would be unreasonable and not thought through when it came to the well being of the clubs and their players.

McGinley’s report is along similar lines and he has asked clubs to stick to the fixtures plan and not to deviate as happened last year.

There is merit in what both men are saying although not everyone involved in club football in Donegal might agree.

Club fixtures have been a serious issue in Donegal for many years – even at a time when the County team weren’t doing so well and there was plenty of time to get games played. The culture had been and was allowed to exist that even when a club was missing one top player their bid to get games called off was accommodated more often than not.

It’s difficult to change something like this but to their credit the club’s decision to defer next year’s Championship gives Jim and the County team a clear run with league matches taking place in the background with County players able to take part when available.

Getting that perfect solution is tricky but here’s hoping that they arrive at one.

It seems that not all those invited will be at Sunday’s convention though. Members of the local media have decided to give the Mount Errigal Hotel a wide berth and, in my opinion, rightly so.

Members of the media were invited subject to the following condition- that the chairman can call at any time, or during any part of the meeting, that the meeting is going in camera, either in advance or retrospectively.

For the life of me I cannot understand how that could possibly happen.
Convention, in my mind, is an event which looks back on the year which has just passed, elects a new officer board for the year ahead and addresses any motions put forward by clubs.

When has it ever been necessary to discuss such matters in camera “either in advance or retrospectively”.

It’s a first for Donegal GAA and not one of its finest moments may I dare to suggest.