The long and winding road to a tiered championship

The long and winding road to a tiered championship
ON PARADE: The Dublin and Tyrone teams on the march before last season’s All-Ireland SFC final at Croke Park. They were the first finalists to emerge from the the Super 8s structure. Picture: Ramsey Cardy

Tomorrow, Central Council will choose which form of the old Tommy Murphy Cup they back as a motion to Special Congress later this year on a revamped football championship. Option 1 proposes Division 3 and 4 teams, upon exiting their provincial championship prior to the finals, go into the reinstated second-tier competition.

Option 2 allows for those teams beaten in the first round of the second tier competition a second chance in the lower half of the second round of that competition - with a requirement that the lowest-ranked Division 2 team is included to make up the numbers.

It is envisaged the first round in both proposals would be split geographically into two conferences with the winners of the second tier gaining automatic qualification for the Sam Maguire Cup the following year. An All-Star team from the participating counties would also be selected for travel on an end of year tour. The second tier would conclude in mid to late July.

Although support for a second tier has grown considerably in recent times, the lack of sophistication in the two proposals may dent their chances of lasting long-term. Regardless, it is the latest attempt to enrich the All-Ireland SFC. There have been several, going back to the qualifiers 18 years ago.

2001: The backdoor

Sensing an appetite for more games and taking into account the success of the limited qualifier system in the hurling championship, a second-chance football structure was introduced. All bar the provincial winners are given another bite of the cherry in the All-Ireland series upon losing in the province with the Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Ulster champions going into quarter-finals rather than semi-finals. Teams re-enter the championship depending on where they exited their province — preliminary round losers and quarter-finalists in Round 1, semi-finalists in Round 2 and finalists in Round 4.

2004:The Tommy Murphy Cup

With the endorsement of then GAA president Seán Kelly, a secondary competition for teams knocked out of the qualifiers is established, named after the former Laois star who was regarded as one of the greatest footballers not to win an All-Ireland SFC medal. It begins with four counties and climbs to a high of 13 two years later before fading out and being disbanded after 2008.

2007: The first tiered championship

A committee set up by Kelly recommends the nine teams in Division 4 enter the Tommy Murphy Cup as opposed to the qualifiers unless they win a provincial title. It removes one of the four qualifier rounds but lasts just two seasons because of weaker counties’ growing disenchantment at being left out of the qualifiers.

2011:The Seán Kelly plan

In this newspaper eight years ago, Kelly put forward his own blueprint. It called for the retention of the national league and provincial championships while allowing the provincial councils to choose the structure of the competition as they see fit. After the provincial championships, the championship would be split into two competitions, the Sam Maguire Cup and the Tommy Murphy Cup. The eight provincial finalists would qualify for the Sam Maguire Cup along with the eight highest finishing counties in the league.

Following the first season, the top two teams in the Tommy Murphy Cup would qualify for the Sam Maguire Cup along with the six best league finishers. The Sam Maguire and Tommy Murphy Cups would be straight knockout, open draw competitions. It is one of a number of proposals considered four years later but was ultimately unsuccessful.

2013: Football Review Committee’s provincial redraw

The FRC suggested the four provincial championships begin with eight teams. Three Leinster and one Ulster preliminary round losers would shift to the Connacht and Munster competitions. Two of the three Leinster teams would enter the Munster quarter-finals with the other and the Ulster team making up the eight in Connacht. The make-up of the preliminary games would be determined by their finishing position in the previous season’s National League. It was rejected.

2015: The Jim McGuinness plan

Borrowing from Kelly’s recommendation, former Donegal manager McGuinness called for the championship to be split, based on league positions with the top six teams in Division 1 and the two promoted teams from Division 2 comprising one half of the top tier. The other half would be made up of the bottom two in Division 1, the third team in Division 2 and the five remaining spots shared between the four provincial winners and whoever claimed the second tier title the previous season.

In the knockout competition, the first ranked team would face 16th and so on with home advantage decided by a coin flip. The B championship would be played between the remaining 16 teams on the same format. Like Kelly’s format, it fell on deaf ears.

2015: The split qualifiers

As a means of giving counties a clearer inter-county schedule to plan for the year as well as reducing the number of six and seven-day turnarounds to qualifier games - particularly for provincial runners-up - the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee divide the qualifiers into A and B pots. Counties’ backdoor slots are pre-destined and it means the chances of counties facing each other twice in one championship are greater.

2016: The killer B

After considering several second-tier championship ideas such as Kelly’s and a Carlow proposal to seed the provincial championships, Central Council chooses to put forward to Congress a motion reassigning Division 4 teams who do not reach their provincial finals to enter a separate competition instead of the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers. Anticipating a major defeat, the motion is withdrawn by Central Council on the eve of Congress.

2017: Super 8s

In an attempt to reinvigorate the All-Ireland SFC with more high-stake games, then GAA director general Páraic Duffy proposes the eight All-Ireland quarter-finalists split into two round-robin groups of eight for a period of three years.

The restructure combines with a tightening up of the championship schedule, All-Ireland semi-finals being played over the same weekend and both All-Ireland finals brought forward.

Despite opposition from the Club Players Association and watery criticism from the Gaelic Players Association, the motion passes with 76% of Congress delegates’ support and the Super 8s are introduced from 2018.

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