Duffy throws down gauntlet on qualifiers
AS the culling season approaches in this year's senior football championship, GAA director general Paraic Duffy has thrown out a challenge to those who are critical of the current system which combines the provincial campaigns with an open draw knockout for beaten teams.
"If anyone thinks they have a better format, we'd be delighted to hear from them," said Duffy. "We're not saying the present system is perfect but it's the best we can come up with, given the structures we're working off."
While the provincial championships continue to provide a soft landing by ushering beaten teams into the qualifiers, the brutal business of final elimination begins this weekend when eight counties will sign off for the year after losing first-round qualifier ties.
Eight more will depart on July 14, followed by a further four over each of the following three weekends.
Now in its 12th season, the introduction of the qualifier system in 2001 dramatically altered the championship but has been questioned in recent years, with critics arguing that staleness has crept in.
"You'll hear that from time to time but I'm not quite sure what it means," said Duffy. "We get different pairings all the time in the qualifiers, so there's no staleness on that front. Nobody ever said that the qualifiers would produce a perfect system, but I think most people would agree that they are a huge improvement on what went before.
"Apart from guaranteeing every county a minimum of two championships games -- which was the prime objective of the exercise -- the qualifiers greatly increase the amount of championship action. From a promotion viewpoint, that's very important."
The introduction of a Champions League-style format, made up of groups who would play off in a round-robin format, is mooted regularly by those who are opposed to the present system, but that would lead to the removal of the provincial championships as part of the All-Ireland format.
"The majority of our members want the provincials retained as an integral part of the All-Ireland championships. It was in that context that the qualifiers were introduced back in 2001," said Duffy.
"They enabled us to retain the provincial championships in their existing formats while also giving counties who lost in the provinces a second chance in the All-Ireland.
"It was the best system we could find at the time and I haven't seen anything better proposed since then. But if anybody thinks they have one, we'll be happy to listen to them."
One of the criticisms of the current system centres on the long delay experienced by some counties between elimination from the provincial championships and the start of the qualifiers.
Westmeath, Laois, Cavan, Roscommon and Waterford had a six-week wait this year, while Wicklow, Antrim and Tipperary had five-week gaps.
Adjustments will be made to the schedule next year to reduce the waiting times. That will involve teams who are knocked out of their provincial championships early on playing off among each other quicker than heretofore.
"We're conscious that some counties have to wait a long time between losing in the provinces and playing in the qualifiers. We're working at cutting down on that," said Duffy.
It's also planned to change the system so that, from 2013 on, no beaten provincial finalists will have to play a qualifier tie on the following weekend. That has been a contentious issue for several years, as only one beaten provincial finalist (Dublin in 2001) has won a Round 4 qualifier six or seven days later.
Meanwhile, a study of the All-Ireland qualifiers reveals that Kerry are the only county with a 100pc record. However, they have played only eight qualifier games, the lowest in the country. Dublin, who have played 10 qualifier games, are next best with a 90pc success rate, followed by Tyrone (85pc).
Galway, who were first to exploit the qualifiers when they won the All-Ireland title through the back door in 2001, have a dismal record. The Tribesmen are in 22nd place on the qualifier success table, having had just one win (versus Louth in '04) over the past 10 campaigns.
Leitrim are the only county yet to win a single qualifier game. They have had several close calls, including taking Meath and Donegal to extra-time in 2005 and '07 respectively, but are still awaiting that elusive first win.
As beaten Connacht semi-finalists, they don't enter this year's qualifiers until the second round on July 14.