Monday 22 May 2017

Stroke of genius or recipe for decline?

Duffy's football plan facing decision time

There were two weeks between the draw between Cavan and Tyrone and the replay in this year’s Ulster championship. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
There were two weeks between the draw between Cavan and Tyrone and the replay in this year’s Ulster championship. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Between now and Saturday week, counties must decide if they want to move a proposal for re-structuring the All-Ireland football championships to the next stage.

If they do, they will instruct their Central Council delegates to support Páraic Duffy's blueprint for change so that it can go forward to next year's Congress for formal consideration.

Duffy contends that the tighter schedule and the earlier finish would be of enormous benefit to the club programme. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
Duffy contends that the tighter schedule and the earlier finish would be of enormous benefit to the club programme. Picture credit: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE

If they don't, then the director general's lengthy submission will be either scrapped or have pieces plucked out for further scrutiny.

Duffy's plan is fairly straight-forward, yet has enough contentious issues to lengthen the odds on it being accepted in its entirety.

The three main elements are as follows: start the provincial championships and qualifiers earlier and run them off much quicker; replace the quarter-finals with two-groups of four playing off in a round-robin format and bring the All-Ireland finals forward by three weeks.

Benefit

Duffy contends that the tighter schedule and the earlier finish would be of enormous benefit to the club programme and that the round-robin method of providing semi-finalists from the last eight would increase the attractiveness of the championships in the latter stages.

It would add eight games to the summer programme, but scrapping the Allianz League semi-finals means the spring campaign can be ended before mid-April, thus facilitating an early May start to the provincial championships.

Under his plan, all the provincial championships would be completed by around June 20, a month earlier than at present.

He is proposing no structural change to the hurling championships but they would be brought forward, allowing the All-Ireland final to be played on the second Sunday in August, followed by the football final two weeks later.

Running the provincial football championships over a shorter time-span and completing the All-Ireland series earlier would leave much more of the season for club activity, an area which currently harbours a whole lot of frustration.

"An unacceptable truth is that the majority of our club players, specifically those not involved in inter-county teams are not offered a fair, evenly distributed and planned schedule of matches throughout the year. That is not acceptable," says Duffy in a document circulated to counties this week.

Quite how provincial councils will react to the tighter programming of their championships remains to seen.

Ulster's response will be especially interesting, since they have always insisted on running their schedule over individual weekends.

When coupled with a three-week interval between the second semi-final and final, it takes nine weeks to play eight games.

Ulster compounded it this year by leaving two weeks between the drawn and replayed Cavan-Tyrone semi-final which, in turn, disrupted the qualifier programme. Under Duffy's plan, extra-time would be played in all games that finish level.

Introducing a round robin for the last eight counties in the All-Ireland race is the most controversial proposal, with Leinster, no doubt, noting that they were blocked by Congress when they sought to apply that system to the early stages of their football championship.

Anomaly

Duffy argues that a round-robin would increase the excitement in the closing stages of the championship, ticking some boxes which the current system does not cater for.

Those include ending the anomaly which currently arises when provincial winners lose a quarter-final. They get no second chance, as happened to Galway and Tyrone this year, whereas every previous loser does.

Duffy has no sympathy with the view that a round-robin would make it much more difficult for weaker counties to reach the semi-finals.

"Our structure should ensure that the best teams will contest the semi-finals and final, which is what any championship structure should aspire to bring about. It should not be the function of a championship format to make it easy for teams to reach the semi-final stages," he states.

One of the inevitable criticisms of his proposals will be that they don't offer weaker counties anything new. They would continue in the provincial championships and qualifiers, with most falling off at the usual locations.

Duffy defends his position by pointing out there is a clear consensus that the provincial championships should not be interfered with in any way and weaker counties don't want a second-tier competition to replace the qualifiers.

Several submissions were brought forward by weaker counties last year but none emerged that had enough support to be accepted.

Still, it's generally accepted that it remains an area where the pursuit of a better arrangement must continue. That can best be done by the weaker counties and, but as the debate at this year's Congress showed, it's a long way from being achieved.

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