Ireland’s track record reads like the plot to a ‘Carry-On’ film when it comes to sporting bodies, such is the way we are guaranteed to become embroiled in some sort of PR disaster year on year.
The Olympic Council of Ireland (formerly OCI, now OFI) embarrassed the nation amid the ticketing scandal in 2016. John Delaney’s use of the FAI as his own personal banking institution was finally uncovered after a decade of mismanagement earlier this year.
However, no sporting body takes the piss quite like the GAA whose hierarchy should feel ashamed this week at the manner in which they’ve rushed through a tiered championship system that a vast majority of the players don’t agree with.
Unfortunately, though, shame is the last feeling John Horan and co will feel. They probably slept soundly following Saturday’s Special Congress, safe in the knowledge that their legacies are close to being cemented.
It’s been levelled at Horan that the introduction of a Tier 2 competition is something he pushed for in order to further prop up his own presidential legacy. After last weekend, that notion has become very hard to argue with.
Plenty of people oppose the introduction of tiered systems in the All-Ireland SFC – this writer isn’t one of those. It could potentially work. Look at the club championship system which operates on a junior, intermediate and senior basis. Every club stands a chance of winning and no championship success is deemed inadequate. They are all special in their own right.
Tiered championships also work in Ladies Football and, again, no championship success is looked down upon simply because it’s at a junior or intermediate level. In fact, it is celebrated. As seen by the Louth ladies, who bounced back from heartbreak in 2018 to claim the 2019 junior crown. The cold reality, however, is that the Louth senior men will never win another All-Ireland as things stand.
No, the introduction of the tiers isn’t the problem here, merely the manner in which this flawed system has been forced through without proper consultation with those who are directly affected by it, the players.
Because clearly they have a lot to say…
Despite contesting an All-Ireland semi-final in 2016, Tipperary currently fall under the bracket of a second-tier team.
Ace attacker, Michael Quinlivan, believes some sort of committee involving Tier 2 figures should have been formed in order to get the views of those affected.
“It would make sense to form a working group of people from teams who would historically have been in the second tier and see what their solutions might be, as all the decisions seem to be top-down rather than bottom-up.”
Mickey Burke of Meath (Tier 1), one of the game’s longest-serving inter-county players, believes a two-tiered system is vital but that it can’t just be lip service.
“We need to develop the game in every county. The two-tiered championship needs to be promoted and marketed properly by the GAA. It cannot just be lip service. It needs to be named properly for e.g. The Páidí Ó Sé Cup.
“The final needs to be on before a big game in Croke Park and on TV. Also, there has to be a carrot for winning it like re-entering the All-Ireland race.
“Traditionally the GAA are slow to move and don’t do change easily. I think a two-tiered championship is so important, two games for a county in the championship is not enough for the so-called weaker counties to develop.
“I would love a Champions League-style format of six teams where every county is guaranteed five games every summer, but this won’t happen.”
Emlyn Mulligan of Leitrim (Tier 2), another giant of the game, believes the Champions League format that Burke alludes to is the way to go. Whereby the bottom-ranked teams break off into a separate competition with both winning teams rewarded for their efforts.
“I think the Champions League format is the best approach, groups of four with a team from each division in each group.
“Top two in each group through to last 16, bottom two into another competition. Both finals on the one day in September. Holidays/All-Stars for both competitions to keep teams interested.”
While Armagh captain Rory Grugan (Tier 1) believes a total overhaul of the system is needed.
“I would like to see a total overhaul, as opposed to small changes every couple of years.
“Play the national league at the start of the year (no pre-season competitions). The provincials will most likely be retained, so run them off quicker and grant the winners some form of seeding for the All-Ireland Championship in the summer.
“For the championship, I believe every team needs to have the possibility of playing for Sam Maguire initially if people are going to give the massive commitment. This could be done in a round-robin format, and then go into a tiered A and B straight knockout championship. One thing is for sure in the GAA, you’ll never please everyone!”
Grugan is right, when it comes to the matters at hand, in the GAA, you’ll never please everyone. But that doesn’t mean a solution can’t be reached that pleases the consensus.
When ushering through this tiered system, you have to wonder why a county captain, an All-Star and two of the game’s longest-serving players (among many, many others) have been left in the cold while a gang of suits come together to decide the fate of the game.
Maybe it is a step in the right direction, only time will tell. Eventually, something had to give. But the manner in which these new systems have gone from idea to implementation is a classic case of an establishment ruling with an iron fist.