For many, next Saturday week’s vote could change the face of football.
Should proposal ‘B’ be passed by delegates at Special Congress, the look of the All-Ireland SFC will have changed fundamentally. And while proposal ‘A’, which sees a redrawing of the provincial boundaries, looks all but dead in the water, the early indications are that ‘B’ will go close to grabbing the required 60pc of the vote.
The GPA are firmly behind the proposal on the basis that it reduces the training-to-games ratio and guarantees more games against similarly ranked teams at the height of summer.
Others point to its obvious flaws, not least that the team who finish top of Division 4 will advance further in the race for Sam Maguire than the sides that finish sixth, seventh and eighth in the top flight.
Niall Carew sees the kernel of a good idea there. He’s been at both ends of the game, working under Kieran McGeeney as Kildare tried to chase down the Dubs and in the intervening years, taking charge of Waterford, Sligo and currently Carlow.
Carew’s experience has taught him that while structures can help, the biggest difference between those at the top of the tree and those further down is the money they have to spend on preparing their teams. For him, it’s the nettle the GAA refuse to grasp.
“The powers that be will always say it’s not just money, my answer would be that it is money,” Carew insisted. “Because the budget we (the smaller counties) have to prepare our teams doesn’t go close to the top teams. You are going to expose your U-20s to the very same way of doing things, your U-17s and then when they get to senior level they are in the right physical condition and all of that.
“But what’s happening with the smaller teams is the money is not going into the U-17s, they are not exposed to the same S&C as the top teams and that’s the problem . . . so we can go with our A, B, C and D proposals all we want but what you are doing is kicking the can down the road.
“And you have commentators coming on week-in, week-out, and they have been exposed to one end of it – the Dublins, the Kerrys, the Meaths the Kildares and the Mayos and whoever it is. But they haven’t a clue what they are talking about because they haven’t worked in a situation that I’m working in.
“Sport for me is always about improving the team you are with . . . for me I will always believe my team is good enough to cause an upset. And it could be against all the odds, but that’s going to be gone, forever, if we keep letting commentators that have no idea what it is like to work at the top or the bottom for a number of years talk, when they have no idea what they are talking about.”
Carew’s fear is that the Tailteann Cup will go the way of the Tommy Murphy competition.
“People mightn’t agree with that but that’s my experience. We keep kicking the can down the road, keep flowering the thing up but look at the Christy Ring, the McDonagh Cup, watch the exposure they get on The Sunday Game.
“If Longford are playing Carlow in the Leinster Championship then there’s a certain amount of interest because it’s a Leinster game. But being honest, if that’s a Tailteann Cup game it is going to be diluted because there’s more interest in the other games and other sports.
“Look, the big thing is it’s just not attractive when you put a ‘B’ beside it. And just because you change from ‘B’ to Tailteann Cup for me it is not attractive either. I’m beating this drum all my life, teams shouldn’t be put into a second competition, you’ll never improve.”
For Carew, far more than any new structure, increased funding for the smaller teams would help level the playing field.
“I know what can happen (with the heavy beatings), and if you let it hurt you it can hurt you. And every team gets a trouncing at some stage. And I know what people are saying when you keep getting hammerings. But if you keep putting the right things in place for players they will respond and they will improve.
“It’s about nurturing the lads, that they could get that big win, you don’t have to win a trophy to have success. That’s what sport is about. People forget it’s called sport, it’s not called winning. You want to win of course but for me it’s about improving and playing against the best and I don’t think we should take that away from counties. And that starts with money.”