There is growing optimism that the GAA is prepared to back one of the revolutionary football championship options later this year.
The association’s fixtures review committee have put forward three proposals for discussion with a mind to them being voted on at Special Congress in April or May. One pertains to retaining the two-tier structure for 2020 while condensing its scheduling and commencing the provincial championships later in May so that April is retained for clubs exclusively.
However, by choosing either of the other two - four provincial conferences of eight teams and flipping the League into the summer - the GAA would transform its premier football competition while retaining the second tier, which was backed by Special Congress in Cork last October.
Sources close to the fixtures review committee which put forward the three considerations have noted that redrawing the provincial lines has been received better than anticipated. Although the group did not outline how they would go about moving counties from their original province into the other and Ulster are likely to oppose it strongly, the idea has piqued interest with the likes of Munster GAA secretary Kieran Leddy indicating support for it and his Connacht equivalent John Prenty being a member of the fixtures review body.
Were such a system to come in, provincial seedings would be determined by finishing positions in the National League earlier that year. All four conferences would be split into two groups of four and run off on a round-robin basis and start at the same weekend. The table-toppers would contest the provincial finals with the second and third-placed teams qualifying for the qualifiers and the team who finish bottom going into the second tier competition.
The other option would move the provincial championships as they stand into the spring and play off the All-Ireland SFC on the basis that the National League is currently organised. However, there has been some disquiet about the criteria by which counties would qualify for the knock-out stages.
According to the fixtures review committee, the top four teams in Division 1 and best two in Division 2 would enter the quarter-finals, while the table-toppers in Division 3 and 4 and the third and fourth-placed sides in Division 2 would face off to determine which two teams take the remaining last-eight places.
However, the folly of rewarding two teams effectively ranked ninth and 10th (top two in Division 2) with All-Ireland quarter-finals and 11th and 12th with last 12 spots ahead of those positioned fifth and sixth in Division 1 has been highlighted and condemned. The fixtures review group have insisted those details are open for review.
Under the flip model, the other 14 teams in Division 3 and 4 would comprise the second tier championship. Both it and the eight-team provincial conference models would see the number of club-only weeks rise from 12 to 15. Condensing the 2020 season would provide two more club-only weeks.