Tyrone insist 'fair' proposal won't hit clubs
'Second-chance' play-off plan no threat to county fixture lists , says McCaughey
DON'T use the extra fixtures argument as a reason to vote 'no' -- that's the plea from Tyrone, who together with Dublin, will lead a campaign to amend the format for the All-Ireland football championship at Saturday's GAA Congress in Newcastle.
"This involves just one extra round of games and, even then, will only impact on a few counties, so it's not as if it's going to cause problems for club fixtures all over the country," said Tyrone county secretary Dominic McCaughey.
Tyrone and Dublin are proposing that the four provincial winners play off against each other, with the two winners advancing to the All-Ireland semi-finals, while the two losers play two survivors from the qualifiers to provide the other two semi-finalists.
The new system would ensure that provincial winners who are beaten in the quarter-finals get a second chance, a reprieve that does not apply under the format which has been in operation since the 'back door' was opened in 2001.
All counties who lose in the provinces are currently granted a second chance, but provincial winners who lose All-Ireland quarter-finals are not.
"We don't think that's right. Our system has provision for provincial winners who lose in the quarter-finals, which is fairer all round," said McCaughey.
It would involve playing an extra round of qualifiers to cut the survivors down to two, unlike the current situation where four qualifiers reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Dublin have a similar motion to Tyrone's on the agenda, so both will be taken together. The biggest objections will be based on the need for an extra round of fixtures at a time when Croke Park are trying to curb the county schedule in order to provide more openings for club activity.
However, McCaughey said that since only one extra round was required, it could be slotted in quite easily.
"The provincial championships could be tightened up, especially in the early stages," he said. "We play the Ulster championship at the rate of one game per week, so there's no reason why that couldn't be tightened up. If that's done across the provinces, we could fit in the extra round required by our proposal later on."
Complaints from provincial winners who have lost quarter-finals have been increasing in recent years, amid claims that winning provincial titles is no real advantage in the All-Ireland race. That's supported by the experiences of provincial winners since 2001 -- almost half have lost All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Seventeen of the 36 provincial champions were beaten in the quarter-finals by teams who had already lost earlier on. However, whereas the latter got a second chance, the beaten provincial winners were eliminated on one defeat.
Galway have the worst All-Ireland quarter-final record as provincial champions, having lost all four attempts in 2002, '03, '05 and '08. They were also the first major beneficiaries of the 'back-door' system, having returned from defeat by Roscommon in the 2001 Connacht semi-final to win the All-Ireland title. Despite Galway's bad record as provincial champions in the last decade, they will oppose the Tyrone and Dublin proposals.
"Clubs feel that adding another round to the All-Ireland championship in late July/early August would be bad for local fixtures. Our football clubs were as adamant on that as the hurling clubs who wouldn't be affected. Our view is that if you win a provincial title and lose the quarter-final, that should be the end of your involvement," said chairman Gerry Larkin.
Galway football manager Joe Kernan, who experienced quarter-final defeat twice with Armagh as Ulster champions, believes that the long lay-off after provincial finals is a major contributory factor to the high attrition rate.
"Provincial winners often have to wait four weeks or more for the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Then, they come up against qualifiers who have built up momentum, having had one -- and maybe two -- games in the same period. I certainly thought that was a factor in my time with Armagh when we lost quarter-finals in 2004 and '06. I'd like to see provincial winners play their quarter-finals quicker," he said.
The Tyrone/Dublin proposal would add two games to the schedule and since they involve teams who reached the last eight in the All-Ireland race, would attract big attendances.
McCaughey added: "Apart from the other benefits, there's a financial spin-off too, although it has nothing to do with our proposal. We're promoting this idea purely because we think it's fairer to everybody."