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Ulster GAA chief opposes provincial changes


Ulster GAA secretary Brian McAvoy has warned against tinkering with the senior provincial football championships in his annual report.

Commenting on the fixtures review committee’s proposals, McAvoy believes there is merit in their document but is vehemently against flipping the National League format into the summer while moving the provincial championships to spring.

“Presently having the most competitive provincial championship, the impact of any change would be greatest within Ulster.

“Option Three of the report opts for the status quo, while Option Two explores the National League format for the championship and envisages standalone Provincial Championships, with the Ulster Championship comprising two groups of five teams (which would include one county from Leinster).

“This is a format I couldn’t support under any circumstances. We can all learn from the past and the experience from Hurling tells us that the Ulster Senior Hurling Championship effectively ‘died’ the day it was decoupled from the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.

When played as a standalone competition it failed to capture the imagination of the public and indeed many players. I fear the same fate would befall Football if this were to be the agreed way forward.

McAvoy is not as strong in his opposition to the suggested redrawing the provinces to form four groups of eight, which would see Ulster lose one of its nine counties to either Connacht or Munster, likely Connacht.

At the same time, he does not support it. “The Provincial Championships are a core tenet of the GAA and ending them would be a grave mistake, which would erode part of our core fabric.

“I penned a strong defence of the Provincial Championships in the 2019 Ulster Senior Football Final match programme and those words ring as true today as they did seven months ago.

“The Taskforce Report deserves a mature debate and this will happen in the coming months. The history, uniqueness and competitiveness of the Ulster Championship must be central to this debate. We can at times all benefit from change and there is some merit in this proposal.

“Any change however must be for the overall betterment of the Association and it would be detrimental to the province as a whole if all our counties didn’t have the opportunity of winning the Anglo-Celt Cup in any given year.”

In his report, McAvoy has floated the idea of doing away with linesmen to facilitate a second referee. “Research by the Standing Committee on Playing Rules during last year’s Allianz Leagues show that there is an average of four sideline balls per football game.

“I just wonder is this the best use of these two officials? I accept that they have other duties, such as bringing infractions to the attention of the referee, but surely there is an arguable case for two referees and no linesmen – you would actually reduce the number of officials needed on match day (the fourth official could act as stand-by referee if required).

“I would contend that two referees – one in either half – would reduce the amount of ‘off the ball’ incidents as each referee would be policing their half of the field and therefore, unlike the linesmen, not have to follow the play.”

McAvoy, who also calls on the GAA to get rid of the four-step limit in carrying the ball as it is outdated adds: “I only believe that there would be a need for two referees at senior inter-county and, perhaps, senior club championship level and I believe that it is something worthy of consideration during the next playing rules experiment.

McAvoy also criticises the decision to return the U20 All-Ireland football championship to spring.

“There is no doubt that playing the U20 season simultaneous with the senior inter- county season created challenges but bringing forward the U-20 championship to February/March has merely replaced one problem with a bigger one.

“While moving the start date forward may address the cost and ‘senior clash’ scenarios, it certainly didn’t address the issue of player welfare and young players being pulled from ‘pillar to post’.

“It actually compounds the problem. The timing of the U20 Championship now puts it on a direct collision course with Sigerson, Freshers and second level football competitions.

“Sigerson will be completed in the month of January at the very time when county U20 squads are at the height of their Championship preparations. Freshers football is also being played at the same time as the U-20 Championship, while the provincial second level schools’ competitions are also at the business end as the U-20 Championship gets underway.”