All-Ireland Championships: The Options
Scrap the provincial championship and run the All-Ireland series initially on a round-robin basis (eight groups of four or some other broadly similar format) with the top two in each group qualifying for the knock-out stages.
Advantages: It puts all counties on an equal footing in that that they get the same chance to reach the knock-out stages. It guarantees every county a minimum of three championship games. It freshens up the championship as the groups would be different every year.
It makes for a more regulated club scene as the counties would know well in advance when they were playing in the championship and what dates were free for local activity.
Disadvantages: It removes the provincial championships, which many claim are vital, as the local element is still a great crowd-pleaser.
It leaves counties with only one prize to chase (the All-Ireland title) whereas the current system has four provincial titles as attractive staging posts along the way. There's a risk that some of the group games would be meaningless, thereby undermining the entire championship principle.
Once the novelty of the group games wore off, would they come anywhere close to being as popular with the public as the provincial championships?
Retain the provincial championships with some amendments. Change the provincial boundaries so that there were four groups of eight, thereby ensuring that counties had the same number of games to play to win their regional championships. The current qualifier system could apply in tandem with the regional championships.
Advantages: It makes for more even competition, which is fairer all round while also making it easier to run club schedules.
Disadvantages: It would involve relocating some counties away from their traditional bases (possible examples would be Longford or Donegal to the west, Carlow and Wexford to the south).
That wouldn't go down well with those who were asked to move, although in the longer term it might benefit them. For instance, would Longford do better in the west than they have in the Leinster championship?
Retain the current system.
Advantages: It incorporates the traditional provincial championships with a second chance for beaten teams in the All-Ireland series. It has its flaws but, given all the factors involved, it's the best available system.
Disadvantages: Because standards are different and provincial size varies, it gives an unfair advantage to the likes of Cork and Kerry who dominate Munster and to Galway and Mayo, who are Connacht's traditional 'Big Two'. Some teams in Connacht and Munster get a bye into their provincial semi-finals, whereas teams in Leinster and Ulster have to win twice to advance that far. Teams who lose provincial games get a second chance but a provincial winners who loses an All-Ireland quarter-final doesn't.
Revert to the old system where one defeat meant the end of the road.
Advantages: It restores the primacy of the provincial championships as the only means of winning the All-Ireland title. It reduces the inter-county fixtures list, thereby creating more room for clubs.
Disadvantages: It leaves players putting in a massive effort and counties spending a large amount of money for just one game. It reduces the excitement of the championship, halves the number of games and lessens the financial take. It's also unfair in the sense that some provinces are bigger than others, yet all four produce one All-Ireland semi-finalist each.
Scrap the provincial championship and play the All-Ireland series on a round-robin basis.
Advantages: It has a certain logic since Connacht have no provincial championship, while the Ulster championship doesn't count in the All-Ireland series. It provides more games and greater variety than is currently the case.
Disadvantages: The Munster championship, in particular, remains a massive crowd-puller. Would round-robin games come anywhere close to matching a Munster semi-final or final as an attraction? Probably not.
Play the Munster and Leinster (including Antrim and Galway) championships in round-robin format with the top two in each reaching the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Advantages: It provides more games, thereby giving counties a greater opportunity to host big championship events.
Disadvantages: Some of the game might be meaningless which would devalue the championship and have little public appeal. It leads to even less variety than is currently the case.
Retain the current system.
Advantages: It retains the Munster and Leinster championships but gives losers a second chance. It needs to be given a chance to settle down, as the experiment of playing Galway and Antrim in Leinster is only headed for its third year.
Disadvantages: How can a competition that includes Galway from Connacht and Antrim from Ulster be credibly called the Leinster championship? With less than half the counties in the country deemed good enough to compete for the Liam MacCarthy Cup, it seems silly to structure a competition on the basis of regions.
Revert to the old system where a provincial defeat meant elimination from the All-Ireland. Allow Galway and Antrim directly into the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Advantages: It retains the integrity of the championship in that one defeat spells the end. It creates more room for club activity.
Disadvantages: It's unfair to allow two counties directly into the All-Ireland semi-finals while their rivals might have had to win three games to reach the same stage. Hurling needs all the promotion it can get so cutting the number of games in the championship would be a big mistakes both from a profile and a financial viewpoint.