Facing the prospect of some disgruntlement had they pressed ahead without a full in-house debate, the GAA have deferred several key motions to a special congress in the autumn, including the radical proposals for reforming the football championship.
In a week where the Association announced a record annual loss of €34 million for 2020, just 47 motions have been tabled for a first ever remote Annual Congress, set for the weekend after next, February 27-28th – and of those motions 10 have been deferred until the autumn.
A vote will be taken on making the so-called split season a permanent feature of the GAA calendar, although the enduring pandemic restrictions means Congress will be a far more limited affair compared to most other years.
Of the 47 motions approved for the Clar, only 37 will be debated and voted on by virtual means, the remaining 10 deferred to a yet unspecified date in the autumn in the hope a full and more robust debate can take place with some or all delegates attending in person.
The intention will be to stage that special congress in the autumn come what may, even if still virtual, the deferment in the meantime aimed at removing any potential shadow over the introduction or otherwise of an entirely new football structure.
Motion 18 (Proposal A) and 19 (Proposal B), from the Fixture Calendar Review Task Force (FCRTF) both address the options for the new football championship structures, and are chief among those 10 motions now deferred; part of the reasoning is that there’s no immediate urgency for the GAA to make up its mind on what precise format to choose as it would not come into force until 2022.
There are essentially three options on this matter; to retain the current format; to bring in an eight-team regional championship, standardising the four provinces into eight-county units by shifting teams based on placing in the national league; or play the provincial series as stand-alone competitions in the spring before the league would become a qualifier competition for a new two-tier All-Ireland series.
The future of the Super-8s may also need to be decided; originally voted in on a three-year experimental period, only not used last year nor in 2021, if neither of the new formats are agreed then a decision around the future of the Super-8s must also be made. Given what’s at stake however it was agreed these proposals would be best deliberated on with conventional congress attendances.
The proposals of FCRTF were first launched in December 2019, originally due for debate as a special congress last September, which was also ruled out by the Covid-19 crisis.
For now at least all motions have been validated and won’t be required to go through any further gateway before debate, and so remain published numerically as are.
Of more immediate priority is Motion 12, to agree the concept of a split season, as organised in 2020 and already agreed again for this year, only with county going first (in a reversal of last season’s club-first format).
On the so-called split season, Motion 12 proposes that “The All-Ireland senior finals shall be played in Croke Park. The finals shall be played on or before the 29th Sunday in the year (essentially before the end of July) on dates determined by the Central Council.” ( Exception: Where the first Sunday of the year falls on January 1st, the finals shall be played on or before the 30th Sunday of the year.)
The FCRTF was also the initiative of GAA president John Horan, whose term of office concludes at Congress, with Larry McCarthy taking over, thus ending hopes that Horan would be in office to see the proposals through.
John Prenty, also a member of the FCRTF, told this newspaper last week that major matters such as the restructuring of the football championship should be deferred until delegates can attend in person, and with that allow for proper debate.
“I think major matters might be shelved until we can get a proper congress,” he said. “There are a couple of decisions that can be taken in a few weeks, one of which is I’d say that we should have a split season. If we had that then you can plan a season for next year and it doesn’t matter immediately what the format is going to be.
“If you don’t have the basic structure of a split season you don’t even know how you’re going to organise the following year. In the current pandemic you’ve no choice but it needs to be set in place if we’re proceeding with it next year.”
Remote meetings have already shown to have their limitations, the reduced delegations and the difficulties of conducting debate amongst people not in the same room further reducing the appetite for a traditionally-sized motions list.