My name is Mickey Quinn. I am a Longford senior footballer and have represented my county since 2012.
In that time, I have operated as a Division 4 player for one season, a Division 3 player for eight seasons, and a Division 2 player for one season. I have played in 31 championship games, winning 14 times. I have averaged just three championship games across those 10 seasons. Despite playing in the lower tiers of football, having endured more bad results than enjoyed good and having seldom, if ever, having been in the spotlight, I have represented my county with an almost unexplainable sense of pride. I am not alone.
When I was a kid growing up and playing for my club, Killoe Young Emmets, I dreamed of kicking the winning point in the All-Ireland final. I dreamed of walking up the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift Sam Maguire.
I dreamed of bringing Sam home to Longford and seeing what that would mean to the people of my county. I still have those dreams.
And when I hang up my boots and return to being a Longford supporter, I will continue to dream of days like those. I am not alone.
But as I grew up and as I started to line out in the blue and gold of my county, my dreams were confronted with a very different reality. That reality showed me that by virtue of where I was born, by virtue of the population of my county and the resources at our disposal in Longford, winning Sam Maguire was realistically nothing but a dream.
Did that kill my desire to play for my county? No, it never would.
Anyone who has ever had the privilege of pulling on their county’s jersey knows how magical a feeling it is. But it did mean I had to readjust my targets. I am not alone.
And so, league football became as much a priority as the championship.
The championship is where all footballers want to excel but it gave me no realistic avenue to success. The league did. It involved playing a guaranteed number of games against players and teams of a similar level and meant, as a player and as a team, we could develop. But then, whatever success I enjoyed in the league, the season would always come to an abrupt end and would have an asterisk beside it, often ending with a heavy defeat. My last championship game ended in a 22-point defeat to Meath. I am not alone.
Was that frustrating? Did I feel like I was wasting my time? Was it hard to justify the time and effort I was putting in? Yes. Yes is the answer to all of those questions.
So why do I continue? Because I am proud of where I am from. Because Longford is my county. Because I wanted to be there for the better days. Because I could not sit on the sidelines and watch on as those hammerings happened thinking I could help. I am not alone.
And now I am presented with an opportunity. The GAA, having been wedded to a provincial championship system for over 130 years which is no longer an acceptable structure, moved towards change. Reform came in the way of the fixtures review taskforce and they, a GAA committee, suggested flipping the system.
It would give me a minimum of seven championship games against players and teams of my standard with a chance to progress on the pitch. It would keep that dream of Sam Maguire, however unrealistic, alive and offer the chance to drop into the Tailteann Cup.
Change, a fairer system for all, a chance to develop; it’s exciting, encouraging, and enticing to me. I am not alone.
My story is the same story, with slight variations along the way, for hundreds of players across the country.
And now, on Saturday at Special Congress, delegates have an opportunity to tell us that we matter; that we are not just seen as cannon fodder for bigger teams; that we are important to the GAA.
And delegates have the opportunity to tell young lads playing with their clubs in lower-tier counties that we want you to play for your counties; we want you to be able to dream of big days; we want to show you the respect you deserve.
And they have the opportunity to do this while retaining provincial competitions and knowing the cream will still rise to the top and win Sam Maguire.
I hope delegates take this opportunity, for myself but, at this stage of my career, more importantly for the seven- and eight-year-olds playing at Emmet Park in Clonee, Longford, this morning. I am not alone.
Everyone who wants Proposal B is admitting it is full of flaws
Stephen Barker (Derry chairman, in conversation with Declan Bogue)
Before delegates vote on motions 18 and 19 dealing with football championship reform, I believe the bold thing to do is to take it off the table for three months and come back with a stronger option.
Despite having been on the Fixtures Taskforce, I am not a fan of Proposal B. It has constructive elements but also deep flaws which have been already highlighted.
There are also other considerations which have not been highlighted such as the sheer damage it will cause to the club game due to the scheduling.
Why has the league been such a good competition? It’s because teams play at their own level. We all like that.
If we take the months of January to March, there was no club activity on, relatively speaking. So Joe Public, the GAA membership, get out to watch their team play.
Whenever we move this into April and May, the club scene will be vibrant within their own leagues.
The county player can’t play for his club. But the club player will play for his own club. The club volunteer goes to watch his club.
As someone who plans the Derry fixtures, I have to factor in seven Derry league-championship matches throughout April and May. So do I put the club league games on a Saturday? If I do, that’s a weekend of activity within Derry where we are already committed to our clubs. Are we all fit to travel to Galway, Cork, Mayo and Meath on the Sunday? It’s highly unlikely.
Plus, we then have all the underage competitions, which we don’t have in February and March. Those are big, big factors that people haven’t considered.
Then, there’s the sheer number of games. You have 10 weeks of action. The teams that make the All-Ireland semi-final will be playing 10 matches in 12 weeks. The teams that make the Tailteann Cup final will be playing 10 matches in 13 weeks.
What size of squad do you need to play that number of games?
In terms of player development, you won’t have a radically different number of games by adopting Proposal B.
In Ulster, we had the Dr McKenna Cup, with a