Saturday 10 December 2016

Carlow step up push for qualifier change

Published 01/11/2016 | 02:30

Carlow’s Hughie Gahan and Stephen Kelly of Wicklow, pictured here during an All-Ireland SFC qualifier last June, will gain nothing from the proposed new championship formatrun. Photo: Ray Lohan/Sportsfile
Carlow’s Hughie Gahan and Stephen Kelly of Wicklow, pictured here during an All-Ireland SFC qualifier last June, will gain nothing from the proposed new championship formatrun. Photo: Ray Lohan/Sportsfile

Carlow are to seek the support of lower-ranked counties as they launch a fresh attempt to have the format of the All-Ireland football championship changed.

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This follows the decision by Central Council last Saturday to put reform proposals devised by GAA director general Páraic Duffy before Congress next February.

However, since Duffy's plan relates only to teams that reach the last eight, it's largely irrelevant to many counties. Other aspects of his proposal, especially those involving earlier dates for the entire championship programme, impact on all counties in both codes, but he offered no suggestions for adjusting the qualifiers.

"Changing how the last eight finish off the championship won't make any difference to a lot of counties. There's nothing in it for the likes of us," said Carlow county secretary Gerard Lennon.

Carlow now intend to press forward with a motion which proposes modifying the qualifiers. They put it before Congress last February, gathering 40pc support, and are planning further tweaks in an effort to gain wider support.

"We need second-tier counties to back us. We believe our proposal has real merit. It may need to be tweaked here and there but that can be done.

"We don't think that all the debate at next year's Congress should be about how to finish off the Championships - we need to look at other issues too," said Lennon.

Carlow's proposal seeks change to the qualifiers, with counties seeded on the basis of where they finished in the previous Championship and League.

The eight provincial finalists from the previous season would be top seeds, with beaten provincial semi-finalists as second seeds. The remaining seedings would be determined by finishing places in the Allianz League.

The third and fourth seeds would play off in Round 1 of the qualifiers, with the winners playing second seeds and so on until the last eight were reached.

Carlow argue that their plan is progressive as it (a) includes the retention of the provincial championships (b) links the League to Championship seedings (c) would lead to fewer mismatches (d) would not increase the number of games.

"Another big advantage is that it would end the long delay that occurs for some teams between being knocked out of the provincial championship and entering the qualifiers.

"We had to wait five weeks this year. Under our plan, the provincial championship and qualifiers would run together so there would be no big gaps between games, which would be good for both the county and club scene," said Lennon.

Carlow's proposal did well in difficult circumstances at this year's Congress. A Roscommon motion calling for a Tier 2 Championship attracted little support, while Central Council was forced to withdraw a proposal to introduce a 'B' Championship for Division 4 counties after players announced they would boycott it.

Lennon believes that Carlow's plan has real potential and deserves to be re-visited by Congress.

Proposal

It remains to be seen if any other county submits a Championship reform proposal to Congress next year.

Duffy's call to replace the quarter-finals with a round-robin format (two groups of four), guaranteeing all eight counties three games each, was well supported at Saturday's Central Council meeting.

Clare raised most reservations, arguing that it would greatly reduce the prospect of a lower-ranked county advancing to the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Central Council's backing of the Duffy plan should not be taken as proof that it's got anything like the necessary support to be successful at Congress.

It's quite likely that some delegates merely supported getting it on the Congress agenda, rather than believing it's the best way forward.

It would have been embarrassing for the director general if a detailed proposal were shot down without going before Congress, a situation which Central Council could not allow.

The real debate will now focus on whether a round-robin format, which Congress blocked when Leinster tried to introduce it to their championships, is seen as a sensible option for the last eight teams.

Duffy argues that it will not only refresh the latter stages of the All-Ireland series but also comes with the attraction of guaranteeing all eight counties one home game as well as one in Croke Park.

Irish Independent

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