Second-tier All-Ireland Football Championship imminent

The introduction of a second tier All-Ireland senior football championship following the provincial competitions is on the cards if the proposals up for debate are anything to go by.

A “B” competition is recommended in 14 of the 18 potential reformats sent to counties to debate before Central Council decide next month whether a motion will go forward to Congress in February with a mind to having it passed for the 2017 season. A strong majority of the suggested revamps also back linking the league positions with the championship.

Also included in the “Football Championship Proposals - Towards 2017 and Beyond” document sent out by Croke Park last week are Carlow’s championship blueprint, calling for a seeded qualifier system based on the previous year’s provincial and league standings, and the GPA’s plan to incorporate a Champions League-style structure following the provincial championships.

Here’s how we rate six of the standout proposals (although Croke Park don’t reveal the sources of the recommendations the origins of a number of them are obvious):

Proposal 1 What does it entail?

The return of a knock-out Tommy Murphy Cup-like competition with provincial preliminary/first round losers from Division 3 and 4 entering it. Tommy Murphy Cup winners return to the All-Ireland championship in the final round of the qualifiers. GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail appears to favour this plan.

Pros:

A neat and tidy suggestion. “B” competition has a significant and almost immediate inducement. Tommy Murphy Cup winners will return to main championship having built up a head of steam.

Cons:

Several players from weaker counties have already indicated their opposition to a “B” championship. Not the revolution that many are crying out for.

Proposal 2 What does it entail?

Provinces retained, qualifiers quashed. The 16 teams from Division 1 and 2 compete for the Sam Maguire Cup plus those Division 3 and 4 teams if they win their respective provincial final. Provincial winners are given home advantage in their games. The eight winners qualify for the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Teams from Division 3 and 4 play in a knock-out competition with semi-finals and final played in Croke Park.

Pros:

The best play the best more or less from the start of the year to the end. Chances of mismatches greatly reduced.

Cons:

Too much influence from the league on the championship. Too much like the jettisoned Tommy Murphy Cup.

Proposal 3 (proposal 6 a slight variance of 3) What does it entail?

The introduction of knock-out senior and intermediate All-Ireland championships, 16 teams in each competition. In year one, the four provincial winners along with the next 12 best placed teams in the league would qualify for the senior championship. In year two, the competition would consist of the four provincial winners, the 11 next best placed teams in the league and the previous year’s intermediate winners.

Pros:

Similar to Jim McGuinness’ Seán Kelly-inspired restructure, it would agreeable to a lot of GAA administrators. League has a major but not too significant say in the make-up of the championship.

Cons:

The best weaker county has to wait almost a year before earning their reward to play among the big sides. Some Division 3 teams in recent times have reached quarter-finals and semi-finals but here they may be ruled out. Which predominantly football counties want to be known as intermediate?

Proposal 8 (Carlow) What does it entail?

Provinces are retained with the eight 2016 provincial finalists handed byes into the last 16 of the All-Ireland competition (round three). The eight 2016 semi-finalists would be ranked second seeds and qualify for round two where they would face the eight first round winners. The first round comprises the third and fourth seeds who are identified by their league placings.

Pros:

Same number of matches as is currently (60), which will appeal to clubs and fixture-planners. The end of long waits between provincial and qualifier games. Not as many backdoor mismatches.

Cons:

Players want more games and may be disaffected by no increase. Amplifies the inequality of the provincial system.

Proposal 10 (Seán Kelly) What it entails.

The top tier knock-out All-Ireland competition made up of the eight provincial finalists, the two “B championship finalists from the previous year and the six next best finishers in the National League (eight in 2017 as there would be no “B” finalists). The other 16 would enter a similar structured knock-out campaign.

Pros:

Put forward by the former GAA president three years ago, it has not aged and ticks so many boxes such as fixtures, less potential for lopsided games and bridging the spring with the summer. Not one but two teams from the lower rung are rewarded.

Cons:

The “B” finalists have to wait a season to join the race for the Sam Maguire unlike other proposals where the reward for the winners is in the same season. Second tier won’t appeal to players from weaker counties.

Proposal 14 (GPA) What it entails.

Provincial competitions run off over six weeks in April and May. Following that, the All-Ireland SFC comprise eight groups of four with the seeding ascertained by league positions and provincial standings. Played off on a round robin basis, the winners in each of the eight groups qualify for the last 16. To join them, the eight second placed teams faced those who finished third in the group face off in knock-out games.

Pros:

More games, which inter-county players are crying for, and makes for good news gate receipts-wise. League and provincial performances incentivised. End of pre-season competitions.

Cons:

Propensity for more mismatches pitting Division 1 teams against those from Division 4 in each of the eight groups. Running off the provinces in six weeks is over-ambitious and an extra 40 games would be a logistical nightmare.


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