Strong support for the creation of a two-tier All-Ireland football championship has emerged from Tyrone.
County secretary Dominic McCaughey claims a new system would provide more meaningful and competitive games for both the stronger and weaker counties. In his report to next week’s county convention, he also suggests that the inter-county season should begin with the National Football League, with an inference that pre-season competitions such as the Dr McKenna Cup would be scrapped.
“On a trial basis, consideration should be given to commencing the inter-county season with the National League, followed by a stand-alone Provincial Championship, in which more than one game takes place on each weekend; then, an All-Ireland two-tier championship, with 16 teams in each tier, would conclude the inter-county season.
The grading of teams for each tier of the championship would best be determined on finishing positions in the previous year’s National League, with all Division 1 and Division 2 teams participating in the higher tier and all the Division 3 and Division 4 teams taking part in the lower-tier championship,” he suggests.
McCaughey wants to see a system similar to the club model, where competitions in both league and championship are run on a divisional basis.
“This set-up would bear a strong resemblance to that which operates very effectively at club level in most counties. It would result in county teams participating in games that are much more meaningful and competitive – which is fairer to the stronger counties as well as to the weaker ones - and players competing against opponents of a similar strength and quality.
Despite the changes introduced this season to streamline the playing season, the Tyrone secretary feels it is still too long.
And he contends that condensed fixture sequence place undue demands on players. “The length of the playing season, although shortened by two weeks, is still considered to be extensive, with the first official fixture taking place on January 3 and the final game being on September 2 (while noting that there were no inter-county fixtures in April).
"Fixtures were condensed into very short time-frames – four McKenna Cup games were played in 11 days; 12 McKenna Cup and NFL games took place in a period of just under 13 weeks; and, Tyrone participated in nine All-Ireland championship games in a 12-week period.
He continued: “In 2018 Tyrone’s senior footballers played 22 games in a season of seven months; the club players play a minimum of 16 matches in league and championship (and up to 3/4 more games in a successful championship) in a seven-month period, commencing in April.
“A ‘county player’ with a successful club could have participated in 41 games in a 10-month period; this demanding schedule continues to be avoided due to the goodwill and co-operation of all clubs in their acceptance of the need for so-called ‘starred’ league games. This acceptance often results in club teams not achieving their potential success – in winning leagues, gaining promotion, or avoiding relegation – in a given year.”