Tuesday 23 January 2018

Return to 16-team top flight on agenda for National Football League

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

GALWAY, Monaghan, Louth and Westmeath will be the big winners if a proposal to restructure the Allianz Football League is accepted by Central Council on Saturday.

Galway and Monaghan were due to be relegated to Division 2 next year but will be granted a reprieve if the plan to increase Division 1 from eight counties to 16 (divided into two groups) is adopted.

Louth and Westmeath, the top two in Division 3 this year, were due to be promoted to Division 2 but are now in line to advance directly to the top flight.

Under the proposal, the following 16 counties will be in Division 1 (two groups of eight, decided by open draw) in 2012: Cork, Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, Down, Armagh, Monaghan, Galway, Donegal, Laois, Derry, Tyrone, Kildare, Meath, Westmeath, Louth.

The top two in each section qualify for the semi-finals, which will return to the Division 1 schedule for the first time since 2007.

Divisions 2 and 3 will comprise the following: Division 2 -- Antrim, Sligo, Wexford, Offaly, Cavan, Tipperary, Roscommon, Longford; Division 3 -- Limerick, Waterford, Wicklow, Fermanagh, Carlow, Clare, Leitrim, London, Kilkenny.

Up to a few years ago, the top 16 were divided into Divisions 1A and 1B, followed by 2A and 2B, with inter-linked promotion. The bottom two in Division 1A were replaced by the top two in 2A, similarly with 1B and 2B.

However, the new proposal, while advocating the return to a 16-county Division 1, proposes retaining Divisions 2 and 3 in their current format.

GAA head of games administration Feargal McGill said that the proposal to revamp Division 1 was designed to bring added freshness to the competition and to ensure that there was greater variety in the pairings.

The amended system would apply for two seasons, after which the 16 Division 1 teams would again be divided by an open draw.

"We think that by doing it that way, it would freshen things up every two years. It would also greatly add to the incentive for the teams outside Division 1 to work as hard as possible to get into the top group," he said.

Monaghan manager Eamonn McEneaney welcomed the proposal, believing that it would energise the Division 1 league and increase the incentive for counties lower down.

"I'm not just saying that because Monaghan were due to drop to Division 2 next year. I had the opposite experience with Monaghan and Louth in the past when the league was changed and we lost out.

"I just think that having the 16 top teams in two groups would work well, especially now that semi-finals are on the way back. It would also be a boost to teams lower down, as the path to Division 1 wouldn't be as long," he said.

The big risk attached to separating teams by open draw is that it could produce a geographical imbalance, involving Leinster and/or Ulster counties, since each province has six counties in the top 16.

In theory, that could lead to six Leinster counties in one group and six from Ulster in the other section, leaving only Cork, Kerry, Galway and Mayo as the 'outsiders' in provincial parties.

Among the other proposals considered was a north-south geographical division of counties, based on a line from Dublin to Galway. However, that has been ruled out and instead Central Council will vote on the plan to return to a 16-team Division 1.

They will also discuss three different proposals to reconfigure the hurling League.

Irish Independent

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