Tuesday 17 July 2018

Martin Breheny: There's a better way than scrapping NFL semi-finals

Colm Cooper is squeeze out by the Roscommon defence during Sunday's clash, which did nothing to support the argument for retaining the semi-finals (SPORTSFILE)
Colm Cooper is squeeze out by the Roscommon defence during Sunday's clash, which did nothing to support the argument for retaining the semi-finals (SPORTSFILE)
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Farewell then to the Allianz Football League semi-finals, which are to be zapped from the schedule for the second time in eight years.

So that's it then, they're gone for good, removed as part of the grand plan to free up more time for club action? Don't bet on it.

The semi-finals were scrapped before, making way for a straight final between the top two in Division 1 for four seasons (2008-11). Then came the call for a return of semi-finals, encouraged by the attractive prospect of a financial add-on to a pot that's shared among all counties.

Now, they are to be abolished again, sacrificed on the basis that their removal will help clubs. Since only four counties were involved, it's hard to see how clubs generally will gain very much from a minor tweaking.


So don't be surprised if, after a few years and no real benefit accrues for clubs, there's a proposal to restore the semi-finals. If it happened before, it can happen again.

Last Sunday's two lop-sided games did nothing to support the argument for retaining semi-finals, but then competition structure can never be based on two results.

Still, it has to be accepted that the semi-finals didn't capture the public imagination over recent seasons. The big question is whether there should be a final at all, instead crowning the top side champions in each division.

With Dublin v Kerry and Cavan v Tyrone (Division 2) set to draw a very big crowd to Croke Park on Sunday week, it might seem daft to suggest that the finals be scrapped, but what if there's a better way of running the League, one that's fairer for everyone while also ending earlier than at present?

Removing the semi-finals next year takes just two games (one weekend) off the schedule - scarcely a major breakthrough.

Even when the League returns to straight finals in all four divisions, counties won't know before the season starts if they need to make allowances in their club programme for a Sunday in April when they might be in the divisional final.

So is there an alternative system that has no finals, thereby guaranteeing the same finish date for everybody, can be run off in the current timescale and guarantees no loss in revenue?

Actually, there is. It involves having three rather than four divisions, with the winners crowned champions. Relegation and promotion would continue as usual.

By way of example, Divisions 1 and 2 would have ten teams each while Division 3 would be split into two groups of six. That guarantees teams in the top two divisions nine games each, rather than seven.

Counties in the two Division 3 groups would play home and away, thereby having 10 games.

The Croke Park fixture-makers will shriek in disbelief at any suggestion to increase the number of weekends required to play the divisional games but the reality is that Dublin and Kerry will have nine League games this year anyway while the finalists in their other divisions will have eight.

Besides, a three-division League (as detailed below) requires 120 games, while it will take 116 games to complete next year's programme even without semi-finals.

This year's divisional games were played off over 11 weekends, finishing on April 3. Eight counties will be playing finals three weeks later. Surely it's possible to play nine games in Divisions 1 and 2 and 10 in Division 3 over 12 weekends?

If applied this year, ll divisions would be completed by next Sunday (April 17). The extra games in each division would more than compensate for the loss of revenue from semi-finals and finals. In addition, it would be a fairer test over more games than the current seven-round system

And so to the make-up of a three-division League. Based on finishing places this year, they would be as follows:

Div 1 (10): Dublin, Kerry, Roscommon, Donegal, Mayo, Monaghan, Tyrone, Cavan, Cork, Down.

Div 2 (10): Galway, Fermanagh, Meath, Derry, Armagh, Laois, Kildare, Clare, Offaly, Longford.

Div 3A (two sixes of equal strength): A: Sligo, Louth, Westmeath, Wicklow, Waterford, London.

Div 3B: Tipperary, Antrim, Wexford, Limerick, Leitrim, Carlow.

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