Ulster to shake up format with preliminary breathers
Ulster GAA will make a notable change to their provincial Championship format for 2020, with a subsequent two-year exemption from the preliminary round for teams who contest it.
The Ulster Competition Controls Committee (CCC) has decided to bring some "equilibrium" with the introduction of the system, which means that just five teams will be eligible for the preliminary-round game from 2022 onwards in any given year.
Ulster is the most challenging province in football and, with the prospect of preliminary action each year, it makes it even harder.
Preliminary-round involvement has been prohibitive to winning Ulster titles. In modern times Armagh did it in 2005 while Donegal also won four games each on their way to their 2011 and 2012 provincial titles.
Previously only Cavan came from the preliminary round in 1945 to win an Ulster title.
Ulster secretary Brian McAvoy outlined the reasons for change.
"In my annual report to the Ulster Convention in January, I highlighted the fact that Ulster was the only province that operated a 'straight' draw and that each of the other provinces had some 'conditions' attached to their football Championship draw," he said.
"This in itself was not a valid reason for change, but a close study showed how the Championship draw 'favoured' some counties over others when it came to preliminary-round appearances. Cavan, for example, have played in the preliminary round on seven occasions since the millennium, while Derry have been drawn to play in it on just two occasions.
"While some may validly argue that this is just the luck of the draw, the statistics paint a picture which shows that teams which contest the Preliminary Round have a very poor record when it comes to actually winning the Ulster title.
"On only four occasions has a team that played in the preliminary round gone on to win the Ulster title; Cavan in 1945, Armagh in 2005 and Donegal in 2011 and 2012.
"It will come as no surprise that counties prefer not to be playing in the preliminary round and while some counties will, in all probability, continue to be 'favoured' by the draw more than others, this change will hopefully add some measure of equilibrium to the statistics," added McAvoy.
"While there is no ideal figure, a two-year exemption strikes the correct balance as a one-year exemption was unlikely to bring about much meaningful change, while a three-year exemption would result in just three counties being in the preliminary-round draw and this would significantly increase the prospect of repeat pairings."