Sunday 4 December 2016

Roscommon and Carlow drive on in pursuit of change

Counties want radical shake-up of football championships

Published 11/02/2016 | 02:30

Conan Grugan (University of Ulster Jordanstown) tries to get away from St Mary’s Danny McBride during the independent.ie Sigerson Cup quarter-final. Photo: Sportsfile
Conan Grugan (University of Ulster Jordanstown) tries to get away from St Mary’s Danny McBride during the independent.ie Sigerson Cup quarter-final. Photo: Sportsfile

With Central Council's plan to launch a 'B' football championship for Division 4 counties doomed to failure, Carlow and Roscommon are pressing ahead with their attempts to change the All-Ireland format.

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They will make their cases before Congress in Carlow on Saturday fortnight after what looks certain to be a humiliating defeat for Central Council, who are calling for the All-Ireland qualifiers to be confined to counties in the top three divisions, with Division 4 teams playing in the 'B' championship.

The GPA has already stated that Division 4 teams will not compete in the 'B' championship even if Congress votes it through.

The GPA's hard-line stance probably won't require implementation since the Central Council motion is most unlikely to get anything like enough support to win a vote. It hasn't even got the backing of all counties whose teams are in Division 4.

Carlow will definitely oppose the motion in favour of their own plan, which favours a seeding system for the All-Ireland championships, while retaining the provincial campaigns in their current format.

Seeded

All counties who lost in the provincials would get a second chance but in a seeded qualifier system, starting off with teams in Tiers 3 and 4 playing each other, with the winners progressing to the next level.

Under the current qualifying system, teams from Division 4 can be drawn against Division 1 opposition in the first round.

"Obviously Tier 4 counties have a better chance against Tier 3 opposition than against Tier 2 or 1 so it would be more competitive in the early rounds of the qualifiers," said Carlow secretary Gerard Lennon.

"That would be a better way of running them than we have now. Teams would have to work their way up through the tiers. It would make for more competitive games.

"On top of that, teams would have far more certainty about when they were playing. As it is, counties can't plan a club programme properly because they don't know exactly when they will be playing in the qualifiers as that depends on how they do in the provincial championship. That causes serious problems with club fixtures and leaves club players very frustrated," he added.

Roscommon's proposal is more radical, since it would allow only 16 counties (eight provincial finalists and eight highest league finishers) to compete for the Sam Maguire Cup.

The other 16 would play in a 'B' championship, with the winners guaranteed entry to the qualifiers in the following season.

"We think it would help with the club fixtures situation, which is a problem in every county. We know it will be difficult to get counties to vote themselves out of the qualifiers but we'd like to see the proposal discussed on its merits. So far, we've got positive feedback," said Roscommon chairman Seamus Sweeney.

The big question now is whether counties engage with either of the All-Ireland proposals, following the negative reaction to the Central Council's 'B' championship plan.

It was the culmination of months of consultation with counties, during which 18 proposals were submitted. Eleven of them had a Tier 2 element, although not all embraced either the Roscommon or Carlow formulas.

The GPA proposed the retention of the provincial championships in their current format, followed by a Champions League-style All-Ireland championship, featuring eight groups of four. Each group would be made up of one team from the four divisions.

It was rejected by Central Council on the basis that it would greatly increase the number of games at a time when club players are complaining bitterly about being left idle during the summer.

Despite the extra games, it was surprising that Central Council did not allow the GPA plan to go before Congress where the pros and cons would have been aired in front of over 300 delegates.

Whether the decision to discard it contributed to the GPA's opposition to Central Council's 'B' championship idea is a moot point.

Central Council were already facing a hard sell, since excluding Division 4 teams from the qualifiers applied in 2007-2008, with teams instead playing in the Tommy Murphy Cup.

The secondary competition rapidly lost momentum and was scrapped, leaving Division 4 counties free to return to the qualifiers in 2009.

One of the plus points of the Carlow and Roscommon proposals is that they don't involve any additional games; nor do they interfere directly with the provincial championships, which are regarded as sacrosanct.

Facilitate

However, the Carlow proposal has a provision, whereby the Tier 1 and Tier 2 seeds would be based on the previous year's provincial championships.

That was done in order to facilitate early fixture-making rather than waiting for the provincials to be completed before seeding could be decided.

In an assessment of the proposal, the Central Competitions Control Committee queried whether that would devalue the provincial championships. It also described it as "a change for change's sake" idea.

Carlow reject that view, pointing out that it has two-fold advantage, making early-round qualifier ties more competitive and creating additional space for clubs.

"We're not saying our system is perfect but then there isn't one that can satisfy everyone. We just hope that counties examine our proposal in detail because there are very helpful parts in there, especially for clubs," said Lennon.

A two-thirds majority would be required for either the Carlow or Roscommon motions to be passed.

All-Ireland choices

Carlow plan

Continue with provincial championships. All-Ireland championships seeded as follows:

Top Tier: Eight provincial finalists from previous year. Second Tier: Beaten provincial semi-finalists from previous year. Third and fourth tiers determined by league positions.

All-Ireland format: Tier 3 v Tier 4; winners to play Tier 2; Winners of this round to play Tier 1, clearing the way for All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Roscommon plan

Continue with provincial championships. Divide All-Ireland championships into Tier 1 and Tier 2, restricting entry to the Sam Maguire Cup section to 16 counties.

Tier 1: Winners and runner-up in the provincial championships, plus the eight highest league finishers.

Tier 2: Remaining 16 counties.

Tier 1 (Sam Maguire) and Tier 2 ('B' championship) to be played off on a straight knockout basis. From year two on, the winners of the 'B' championship from the previous season would qualify for the Sam Maguire tier.

Irish Independent

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