Details of Keith Ricken's opening games as Cork football manager

Rebels face Clare and Waterford in the McGrath Cup, before heading into a seven-game series of Division 2 league ties
Details of Keith Ricken's opening games as Cork football manager

New Cork manager Keith Ricken's first game at the helm will be away to Clare in the McGrath Cup next month. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

BEFORE we’ll know it the 2022 GAA season will spring into life just as people are still absorbing the outgoing year.

Already, Croke Park officials gave the thumbs up for a return to inter-county training this week and provinces are planning their pre-season warm-up competitions.

In football, Cork travel to play Clare in the McGrath Cup opener before hosting Waterford as the competition re-appears having been kicked to touch due to Covid earlier in the year. If they progress from the group, they’ll move into the final as a warm-up for the national leagues.

At the end of January, the league throws in, Cork playing three of their Division 2 games at home. They begin with Roscommon (away), Clare (home), Derry (away), Galway (home), Meath (away), Down (home) and Offaly (away.) And off the field, there’s even more activity because of the annual Congress in February, when the famous or infamous, depending on your choice of stouts, Proposal B will again dominate the discussion.

President Larry McCarthy didn’t dwell long on the disappointment of the changes to the football season’s structure failing to get the nod at the Special Congress and has shown impressive determination to make sure it’s in place for 2023.

His new task force will look at the proposals again and report back. Its members include McCarthy himself, Ciarán MacLochlann (Tyrone), Ger Ryan (Tipperary), Derek Kent (Wexford), Vincent Neary (Mayo), John Halbert (Cork), Ronan Sheehan (Down/ GPA), John Joe Carroll (Kerry), Tom Ryan (Director-General/chair) and Feargal McGill (Secretary).

Cork Sec Kevin O’Donovan, who was a member of the original committee which drew up the proposals, didn’t shy away from criticising aspects of the general discussion.

In his annual report to Convention, he said: “From a national perspective, a significant disappointment in 2021 was the failure of Proposal B to gain enough votes to ensure implementation, despite scoring a majority of the vote and despite being the clear choice of the players.

“One would have to be disappointed also with the standard of debate at times with reference to Cromwell, Brexit and the ‘worst motion ever seen at Congress’, all pointing to a race to the bottom in terms of engagement. Fortunately, the players, under the steady hand of Tom Parsons, declined the bait.

Cork CEO/Sec Kevin O'Donovan speaking in favour of Proposal B at the Special Congress at Croke Park. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
Cork CEO/Sec Kevin O'Donovan speaking in favour of Proposal B at the Special Congress at Croke Park. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

“Ultimately, an All-Ireland championship based on unbalanced provincial structures is no longer fit for purpose.

“Any proposal which may be forthcoming based on such a model is unlikely to survive the scrutiny that the recent proposals were rightly subjected to. Thus, the spirit of Option B must be retained and developed further.

“It was encouraging to note the President and Director General indicate after the Special Congress that Proposal B would form the starting point for the next proposal to come on stream,” O’Donovan commented.

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And he believes there are immediate solutions to address fears by simply adding a number of amendments.

They include changing from Divisions 1-4 to seeded Divisions 1A and 1B, 2A and 2B with the top four counties in 1A and 1B and top teams in 2A and 2B qualifying for the play-offs. This would guarantee the best eight teams in the country progressing and remove the so-called Team 6 element of the original proposal which got a lot of backs up.

Another aspect of Proposal B drew the ire of provincial councils because of downgrading of their long-established, but out of date, championships.

To ensure a link between the provinces and the All-Ireland, points would be awarded for champions, who would get two, and runners-up, who would get one, thus rewarding provincial champions.

“Adjusting the calendar to accommodate provincial finals is another consideration to increase their profile, playing the finals, for example, between rounds 3 and 4 of the Sam Maguire Cup.

“And the new Tailtean Cup, a competition for those who don’t make the All-Ireland proper, would be guaranteed a slot for its final on All-Ireland final weekend,” O’Donovan added.

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