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JIM: let's Scrap the league it's not working

JIM GAVIN has called for a radical overhaul of the GAA calendar - one that would signal the end of the National Football League.

He favours a retention of the provincial championships but would play them earlier in the season, followed by a Champions League-style group championship format.

He also sees merit in a two-tier championship system, although he doesn't want to be seen as preaching from his soap box as Dublin boss to those counties who aren't contenders for Sam Maguire glory.

According to Gavin, it's "not acceptable" that players train for a championship that only guarantees them two matches - and one way of resolving this issue would be scrapping a league that has served its purpose.

"Possibly one model is to play those provincial competitions earlier in the year and to move to your group format for the championship series," he suggested, speaking from the GAA/GPA All Stars football tour in Boston. "It's unacceptable that you're giving teams that prepare for six months of the year potentially two games. That's not acceptable and I can understand how players would get frustrated."

Under Gavin's blueprint, you could compress the inter-county season and start it with the provincial championships. One question is how they would retain their meaning, but he saw no reason why you couldn't offer incentives for teams who do well in their province, such as seeding the previous year's provincial finalists for their open-draw SFC groups.

"There's different models you can look at but I like the provincial games," he expanded. "Go to any provincial final and there's great passion in those games, and I think it would be folly to get rid of them.

"I think the National League might have served its purpose and we could move on to a new, group-based championship system."

He added: "The whole championship structure has to change. I'm still a traditionalist at heart and think there could still be scope to play the provincial competitions because I know it means a lot to the Dublin players to win their province and to compete. I still think though that, in the overall championship, there is scope to look at that again ... it's not going to happen next year but large changes will have to happen."

One concern is that GAA supporters mightn't embrace the initial robin-robin phase of a Champions League-style competition, especially if 'dead rubber' matches materialised. A two-tier championship, with promotion and relegation between the two tiers, could surmount this problem.

"There's merit in that," Gavin agreed, "but I'd be very reluctant to get on my soap box and preach that from a Dublin perspective, where we might be perceived to be one of the stronger teams. I would certainly advocate to have a competition where teams can have a realistic expectation to get to a final, but again I'd be hesitant from the position I would hold to preach that to teams that mightn't have a realistic chance of getting to an All-Ireland final."

Gavin doesn't believe there is one single solution to the multi-layered fixtures problems facing the GAA, but one major step forward would be to empower a national fixtures committee such as the CCCC, allowing it to "co-ordinate inter-county games, club games and third-level games."

He also sees "no reason" why an overhauled inter-county season couldn't start in February and finish in August, leaving the rest of the year open to club championships.

Asked if all this could happen during his time as Dublin manager, he concluded: "It depends on the leadership group within the GAA. They're the influencers on the association ... there's no reason why it can't. I wouldn't look on it in terms of change; I'd look on it in terms of growth."