Rules review may impact on provincial structures

I SUSPECT that the establishment of the Football Review Committee (FRC) by GAA President Liam O’Neill generated little interest in Kilkenny. Anyway, I doubt, also, if the fortunes of Kilkenny football will figure on the FRC radar.

I SUSPECT that the establishment of the Football Review Committee (FRC) by GAA President Liam O’Neill generated little interest in Kilkenny. Anyway, I doubt, also, if the fortunes of Kilkenny football will figure on the FRC radar.

The remit of the FRC is to review the playing rules of football and identify any changes which might benefit the game. The notion that the committee’s brief would extend to competition structures was not initially on the agenda.

That would now appear to have changed. A review of championship structures means the spotlight will fall on the provincial championships and that is where the FRC is likely to come into conflict with others in the GAA. I wholeheartedly support a review of the rules of football and the individuals entrusted with this task have worthy credentials to undertake the job.

I also have no issue with a review of championship structures, but I see it as a very different exercise to reviewing playing rules. I was surprised to hear some members of the FRC comment quite unequivocally that the current structure of the senior football championship will not last another 10 years.

That view may not surprise many, but it is clear already, months before any report is written, that the provincial football championships are living on borrowed time, as far as the FRC is concerned.

I know many in the GAA take a different view, so conflict is inevitable when the matter lands on the floor of the 2013 Congress in Derry.


Whatever one’s view is of the current state of football, the ability of coaches and teams to remodel their game and style of play over the past 10 years has been fascinating to watch!

The blanket defence was just one of many tactics that was berated around the country, but credit must be given to those coaches who consistently strove to create new game-plays to outwit that tactic. Successful counties never had to worry too much about adopting new playing styles.

They always had supremely-talented players and the sum of their skill was the reason why they performed so consistently and so successfully.

I am sure the FRC will get plenty of correspondence from individuals with both a direct interest and a direct involvement with Gaelic football. Over-reliance on the hand-pass, plus the pick-up, will be two of the areas where some changes are a certainty.

How much consideration the FRC gives to eliminating the growing cynicism in the game remains to be seen. It is a real problem and appears to have become a bigger issue recently.

Nothing epitomised the cynicism in Gaelic football more than a recent discussion on the Sunday Game Programme. Panel members accepted that Limerick had been extremely naive in not fouling a Kildare player in the dying stages to prevent an attack building towards the Shannonsiders goal.

Another comment from a GAA analyst on Saturday noted that “he had taken one for the team”- a reference to a defender in a football Qualifier game fouling an opponent to prevent a score. In Saturday’s four Qualifier games over 20 yellow cards were issued.

At the conclusion of those games the cards were meaningless.

When prominent and respected pundits accept that cheating is okay if it delivers success, then we have a big problem.

There is a way to eliminate cynicism from Gaelic football (and hurling is not completely immune from cynicism either) and that is the return of the sin-bin.

It is a number of years since this punishment was used in Gaelic games. It should never have been scrapped. I look forward to seeing the strategy the FRC proposes to eliminate cynicism from the game.

Important factor

There is a direct correlation with the playing rules, so amending some of them will be an important factor in eliminating this unsavoury aspect of the game. While playing rules changes may cause tensions with a few coaches and players, take it from me that any restructuring of the senior football championship will be far more contentious.

There are grounds for moving from the present provincial structure as it delivers a lob-sided series of games to different counties. An eight-county (not including New York and London) structure would deliver a common format which could mirror the existing provincial format.

If only it were that simple!

An open-draw structure (and there are different varieties) is a likely proposal from the FRC. I wonder, though, if they will be brave enough to propose a two-tier structure, because there is an obvious gap in standards around the country.

One major difficulty I foresee in any review of the football championship structures is the absence of any administrative officials from the membership of the FRC.

Whatever one’s view of the current Provincial Championships they generate a significant degree of funding, much of which is transferred back to the participating counties.

If the provincial championships are scrapped, then it follows that provincial councils will be heavily dependent on central funding to survive. For the most part there is a very close bond between a county and its provincial body and counties will not want that to change.

I have said on numerous occasions that such a review cannot be done in isolation of a full review of the role of the four provincial councils. The absence of such a parallel review will make the adoption of any new championship proposals all the more difficult to gain acceptance.

Serious momentum

Without doubt there is serious momentum in some circles for an open draw type championship, but there is equally strong opposition to such a move from many officials and counties.

I was bemused (but not surprised) by a comment from a member of the FRC who said: “Croke Park might want to push it under the carpet, when it suits them, but we’ll expose it.”

I could not make out from the report what the ‘it’ meant but it is remarkable that a member of the FRC does not understand that any changes to the ’Association’s rules, including playing rules, are accepted or rejected at the annual Congress.

That body is made up of representatives from every county and not one individual employed by Croke Park has a vote. Maybe it just goes to show how pumped up some FRC members are for the task ahead.

Not too long ago a number of what could best be described as hurling evangelists talked about the notion of setting up a separate body to deal with hurling matters in the GAA. If a proposal for an open draw championship emerges in Gaelic football and is accepted, then the two codes will operate very differently – both competitively and administratively.

Galway stands alone in looking for an open draw in hurling, but its recent Leinster championship success has probably put that to bed for a few years. Still, there are some officials in Galway who would gladly bid farewell to Leinster right now if they had their way.

If parish and county is close to many people’s hearts, so too is their province. Place is everything in the GAA.

One need only think back to the proposed ceding some time ago of parts of South Kilkenny to Waterford and a part of County Clare to Limerick to understand how deeply people feel about their locality. That identity and sense of place comes essentially from the GAA. It is a bond that will not be easily broken.

I wish the FRC well in its deliberations, but I hope someone realises that unless a review of the role and operation of provincial councils takes place simultaneously, a move away from a provincial championship structure for Gaelic football will be difficult to achieve.