Two rounds into the Allianz Football League, it already appears that points might not be sufficient to decide which teams from Divisions 2 and 3 are consigned to the second-tier championship this summer.
The top six teams in Division 2 and top two in Division 3 will be rewarded with a place in the qualifiers, avoiding being pushed into the secondary championship for the 16 lowest-ranked teams.
Of course, the two relegated teams from Division 3 and the 14 others across Division 3 and 4 could yet earn a place in the backdoor system of the Sam Maguire Cup, should they reach their respective provincial championship final.
But with Cork drawn to face Kerry in a May 24 Munster semi-final and the winners of Armagh/Derry facing Donegal or Tyrone in the Ulster last four, the league would appear their best chance of full championship citizenship.
With all but Cork having dropped points across Division 2 and 3, the margins couldn’t be much tighter, and history would suggest they will remain that way up to the conclusion of the league next month.
The criteria for separating teams that finish level on points remains the same as before — with two teams, the result of their head-to-head game dictates the finishing position and if that game was a draw, score difference comes into play, then total points scored. If the teams are dead level on scoring, a play-off takes place.
However, should more than two teams end up on identical points total, head-to-head doesn’t apply and score difference dictates their ranking.
Twice in the last four seasons, score difference has doomed teams to Division 3 and twice it has prevented teams being promoted.
Carrying a score difference of -21 to Clare’s -6, Cork couldn’t have too many complaints about going down to Division 3 last year.
However, three years earlier, Armagh finished on six points alongside Fermanagh, Meath, and Derry but were relegated on an inferior scoring return.
That was in spite of them beating both Derry and Fermanagh, and just four points separating them from promotion to Division 1.
In 2011, Louth went up from Division 3 despite finishing on eight points alongside Wexford and Offaly and having lost to the Faithful County.
A year earlier, Antrim and Sligo won places in Division 2 when they finished with 10 points, the same as Wexford who beat both of them.
With score difference likely to play a part again this year, the GAA will hope that the league isn’t affected by bad weather, as was the case last season.
Back then, Down, who were nudged out of promotion from Division 3 by the narrowest of margins — a measly score difference of one point — were aware ofknew their fate two weeks before the rescheduled Louth-Westmeath game was guaranteed to see one of the two leapfrog Paddy Tally’s side.