At this stage in many of our young readers’ lives, everything revolves around going to training and matches and forging relationships that may last a lifetime – that’s how it should be. But as an organisation, the GAA is constantly evolving and (hopefully) growing, and this winter it is on the verge of two massive changes.
The first of these is locked in and will affect on-field action as the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship introduces a round-robin stage.
While the introduction of the original ‘back door’ format in 2001 was an improvement on the straight knockout system that had underpinned the GAA prior to then, there has been a general acceptance for a while that something better is needed.
Whether the new approach is better won’t be known until it has been tried, but it is worth a shot.
How it will work
After the provincial championship games are played as normal, the top 16 teams in the country will take part in the All-Ireland, split into four groups of four – provincial winners kept apart – with the top side in each group advancing to the quarter-finals while the second- and third-placed teams battle it out to join them.
The counties not in the top bracket will similarly battle it out in the second-tier Tailteann Cup, with the winner of that securing an All-Ireland spot for 2024.
On the whole, there is a lot of sense to this new initiative, even if there are valid misgivings around excluding counties from the top-level All-Ireland series.
The response to this is that counties further down the rankings may benefit from competitive games against teams of a similar level, helping them to improve to reach the higher standard.
The increase in games is notable – there will be 65 games in the 2023 championship, compared to 41 in 2000, the last year before the introduction of the second chance for provincial losers – and of course, it will be in a tighter timeframe, as the introduction of a split season for club and county action means that the All-Ireland finals are now in July rather than their traditional September spot.
For managers and players, it means a change in terms of how to approach things from the point of view of strength and conditioning, especially with busy national league campaigns prior to the championship. For supporters, there is a considerable financial outlay in terms of attending the matches. But there certainly won’t be a shortage of drama.
The other big area of change should, in theory, be without drama, but it is a situation that has dragged on – namely, the efforts to merge the GAA, the Camogie Association and the Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association (LGFA).
While it’s not as easy as each organisation operating as before under the one heading, the fact that all are geared towards the same common goal should smooth the path somewhat.
An obstacle of sorts is the fact that, because the associations grew separately from one other, clubs are distinct entities – your local camogie club might be in the next parish, while the ladies’ football club may operate under a completely different name to the men’s football club.
In addition, falling numbers in rural areas might mean that in football, your club amalgamates at underage level with the neighbouring club to the west, while in football, it is joined with a club to the east. These issues will be explored by before any changes are put in place.
While it’s not as easy as each organisation operating as before under the one heading, the fact that all are geared towards the same common goal should smooth the path somewhat
A statement from the body charged with the integration said: “It was unanimously agreed that the future integrated structure will be based on one association for all Gaelic games and built on the principle of equality.
“It was also unanimously agreed that a significant listening process is required to assist the development of the integrated structure and this process should be one where all voices are given an opportunity to contribute.”
Various stakeholders will be given a chance to engage with the steering group on integration to ensure that as many views as possible are taken on board, in a bid to ensure that what emerges is satisfactory for all involved.
The chairperson of the integration process is Mary McAleese, who was President of Ireland from 1997-2011.
She overcame plenty of challenges in that time – surely she’ll manage this one!