Wednesday 21 March 2018

Martin Breheny: Football qualifiers lacking balance

'One group is considerably stronger than the other in Round 1'
'One group is considerably stronger than the other in Round 1'
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The gulf in standards between the two groups contesting the first round of the All-Ireland football qualifiers is becoming increasingly apparent as the provincial championships reach the end of the first round.

Six of the eight counties in Group A were in Division 4 this year and will be joined by Cavan and the losers of Kildare v Laois, all three of which were in Division 2.

Meanwhile, among those in Group B will be Tyrone, plus the losers of Derry v Down and Donegal v Armagh. Tyrone, Derry and Donegal were all in Division 1 this year, while Down earned promotion to the top flight.

Armagh, who won promotion from Division 3, reached last year's All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Leitrim are the only Division 4 county in Group B at this stage but will be joined by Wicklow if, as expected, they lose to Meath.

The qualifier system was changed last year, pre-ordaining where counties are allocated to the eight-strong Groups A and B. Prior to that, all 16 qualifiers went into an open draw in Round 1.

The format was altered to reduce the wait between exiting the provincial championships and entering the qualifiers and to provide a more even spread of games in late June and July.

However, this year at least, one group is considerably stronger than the other in Round 1, which is unhelpful. If, for instance, Armagh beat Donegal on Sunday week, last year's Ulster champions could draw Tyrone, whom they beat in the Ulster opener last month.

The A and B groups continue in Rounds 2, 3, 4, with counties beaten in the provincial semi-finals and finals joining the qualifiers in a pre-ordained rota.

The counties in the two groups in Round 1 are as follows:

Group A: (June 20 - four games): Carlow, Offaly, Cavan, London, Longford, Antrim, Waterford, Laois or Kildare.

Group B: (June 27 - four games): Tyrone, Louth, Leitrim, Limerick, Armagh or Donegal, Derry or Down, Meath or Wicklow, Wexford or Westmeath.

Irish Independent

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