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Diluted format in danger of devaluing top flight

THIS year's Allianz Football League Division 1 title could go to a county that wins only three out of seven group games, and many will feel that's a most unsatisfactory development.

The restructured system features the return of semi-finals for the first time since 2007.

Prior to 2007, the top two in Divisions 1A and 1B went through to the semi-finals, but the new arrangement will see the top four in Division 1 filling the knock-out slots (1st v 4th, 2nd v 3rd).

Seven points (three wins and a draw) was enough to get Down into fourth place on last year's table, while in 2010, Kerry finished fourth with just six points.

The low requirement to reach the semi-final could result in a less competitive closing stages than was the case either under the system which applied for the last four seasons whereby the top two qualified directly for the final, or the previous arrangement involving Divisions 1A and 1B.

Since it's likely that the semi-finals will be played in Croke Park, there's no advantage for the county that tops the group by comparison with the fourth-placed finishers. Dublin headed last year's table on 13 points, six ahead of Down who finished fourth, with Cork and Kerry (each on 10 points) in between.

The new format could distort the final rounds of the group games if counties have already done enough to reach the semi-finals. They may opt not to field their strongest side, which could have an impact on relegation.

Two counties will be relegated as per usual and replaced by the top two from Division 2. Semi-finals only apply in Division 1. Straight finals between the top two will apply in the other three divisions.

The big action gets under way next Saturday with six games on the agenda, including the Croke Park double-header, featuring Tyrone v Kildare (5.0), followed by Dublin v Kerry (7.15).

Tomorrow -- Division 2: Several big hitters jostling at the promotion gate

Irish Independent