Explained: Shake-up or status quo - GAA votes on options to reshape All-Ireland championship

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Explained: Shake-Up Or Status Quo - Gaa Votes On Options To Reshape All-Ireland Championship Explained: Shake-Up Or Status Quo - Gaa Votes On Options To Reshape All-Ireland Championship
Delegates will vote on the motion at the GAA's Special Congress on Saturday, potentially turning the GAA championship structure on its head. Photo: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
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Muireann Duffy

The structure of the All-Ireland Senior Football championship has been a growing point of contention in the GAA over recent years amid widening divides as strong teams get stronger and weaker team fall further off the pace.

In an attempt to turn the tide, a proposal from the GAA's calendar review task force will be voted on at Saturday's Special Congress, with delegates asked to choose between what have become known as Option A or Option B. Option A would expand the provincial structure, while Option B looks to remove the provincial competition from the championship, representing a radical change which seems to be a bridge too far for GAA traditionalists.

Here's everything you need to know about this weekend's options and how they will affect the season...

What are the options?

In terms of the restructuring of the championship, there are three potential outcomes from Saturday's Special Congress; Option A (passage of Motion 18), Option B (passage of Motion 19), or a return to the structure used in 2018 and 2019 (Super 8s) if neither motion is passed. Motion 19 will only be voted on if delegates first turn down Motion 18.

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Option A will keep the provincial season in its current time slot, being played after the conclusion of the National League. However, a complicated system of preliminary rounds in Leinster and Ulster respectively will seek to make eight-team provincial groups, with the lowest ranked teams from those two provinces going on to compete in the Connacht and Munster championships to bring each of those provinces to eight teams.

In the provincial competitions, the eight teams will be divided in two and a round-robin system will see each county playing three games. The top team from each group will meet in the provincial final, the second and third placed teams will go on to the All-Ireland qualifiers. The first two rounds of the qualifiers will be between the mid-ranked provincial teams, while the beaten provincial finalists will be added into the mix in the third round, the winners of which will go on to the All-Ireland quarter-finals to face the provincial champions.

Option B does away with tradition and expels the provincial championship to the winter months and looks to transform the championship to resemble the current league format. Motion 19 would make changes to the provincial set-up, dividing Ulster and Leinster into two groups, but the major changes will take place in the summer.

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After the provincial championship concludes, the new championship would be played in April-July. There would be four divisions of eight teams, meaning each county plays seven matches on a round-robin basis. When those matches have been played, the top five Division One teams go straight to the All-Ireland quarter-finals, along with the Division Two winner. The two remaining quarter-finalists would be decided by a preliminary round made up of Division Two's second and third placed teams, and Division Three and Four's winners.

This new structure would see the All-Ireland Senior Football Final played in mid-July, on the weekend of July 16th/17th next year if the motion passes.

If neither motion passes, its back to the Super 8s which divides the four provincial champions and four remaining teams from the qualifiers into two groups, with each county playing three games. The top two teams in each group take a place in the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Why are the GPA backing Option B?

The Gaelic Players Association (GPA), the group representing intercounty and club players, have put their weight behind Motion 19, with one of the group's representatives, Down Senior Hurling manager Ronan Sheehan stating that although the suggestion "wasn’t perfect" it is "a vastly improved model to what is available now".

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The GPA insist that their representatives have discussed the proposal at length with county players around the country, the majority of whom have voiced their support of Option B.

Among the benefits of the restructured championship, the GPA is arguing, is that weaker counties, some of whom have seen their championship campaign ended after a single game in recent years, will get more matches and face teams they are more evenly matched to, making the games more competitive.

GPA chief executive Tom Parsons said Option B could "help ignite Gaelic Football" earlier this month, stating 80 per cent of respondents to a survey conducted among GPA members said they support the changes.

GAA President Larry McCarthy and Ard Stiurthoir Tom Ryan have both voiced their support for Motion 19 (Option B)
Photo: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Who else is for or against the motion?

Support for Option B has seemed to be the popular choice in the media, with groups such as the GPA and individual county players making their voices heard, but when it comes down to the vote, it's the delegates who will decide the motions' fate.

Delegates from fifteen counties, including Cork, Kildare and Clare, have been mandated to vote in favour of Option B, while delegates from five counties, including Mayo, Galway and Armagh, are set to oppose both motions in favour of retaining the Super 8s. Other counties, such as Kerry, Limerick and Waterford, have opted to give their delegates a free vote. The GAA's president, Larry McCarthy and director general, Tom Ryan have also spoken in favour of Option B.

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In total, 183 votes are cast, with representatives from the 32 counties making up 82 of those ballots. The remainder of the votes go to members of the GAA's Central Council, overseas bodies and past GAA presidents, so their power cannot be under emphasised.

Any motion before congress requires a 60 per cent majority to vote in its favour in order to be passed.

Is Option B likely to pass?

It's hard to tell - the GAA have voted against change before, and it wouldn't be a surprise if they did it again.

It also wouldn't be the first time the association has gone against the expressed will of a sizeable portion of county players - the GPA opposed the introduction of the Super 8s format back in 2018 stating 70 per cent of county squads were against the change.

However, with the cracks in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship becoming more apparent each year, it needs something radical to bring it back to life, and Option B might be the change that's needed. Option A could be seen as a big enough change to appease the players, while retaining the provincial championship will appease those who want to stick to tradition, but like the Super 8s, it could just be kicking the can further down the road.

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