Refitted 'back door' opens chances of repeat clashes in qualifiers
An increase in the number of provincial rematches looks certain in this season's All-Ireland football qualifiers, arising from the installation of a new 'back door' mechanism.
Aimed at streamlining the qualifier system, the new structure will ensure that no county has to wait more than five weeks for a first round game, as opposed to six or seven under the old regime. The ultimate ambition is to reduce it to four weeks.
The new design will also give a more even spread of games and guarantee beaten provincial finalists a minimum of 13 days before their fourth round qualifier.
Consequently, the All-Ireland quarter-finals will be played over two weekends, rather one weekend as happened in the past.
The GAA's head of games Fergal McGill said the new system offered counties the opportunity to provide a more balanced club programme.
Instead of 16 counties being placed in the same bowl for the first round qualifier draw, they will be divided into two groups of eight, depending on whether they were designated 'A' or 'B' side in their provincial draw.
The counties are divided as follows this year:
A: Fermanagh, Antrim, Derry, Donegal, Tipperary, Limerick, Cork, Galway, London, Sligo, Wicklow, Laois, Longford, Offaly, Wexford, Dublin.
B: Tyrone, Down, Armagh, Cavan, Monaghan, Clare, Waterford, Kerry, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Westmeath, Louth, Kildare, Carlow, Meath.
The eight counties from 'A' and 'B' who don't reach their provincial semi-finals will be in Round 1 of the qualifiers. Two draws will take place to provide four pairings from 'A' and 'B.' Teams in 'A' cannot be paired with teams in 'B.'
That division will continue throughout the qualifiers, so that counties know in advance which group they will join if eliminated from the provincial championships.
The division of counties into 'A' and 'B' greatly increases the likelihood of repeat pairings from the provinces, something that caused concern in the past.
There will be no restriction on provincial rematches in Rounds 1 and 2, but it will apply from there on.
"The new system makes provincial repeats more likely in the first two rounds – there's no doubt about that. But, in the overall scheme of things, there are a lot of advantages to the new system.
"It will probably take a year or two for people to get fully used to it, but once it settles in there will be clear benefits on a number of fronts," said McGill.