Wednesday 17 January 2018

Weak are becoming weaker in lopsided football qualifiers

GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail called for a review of the championship format
GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail called for a review of the championship format
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Nine of the 16 counties competing in Round 1 of the All-Ireland football qualifiers today and next Saturday have won fewer than 10 games in the 14 seasons the 'back door' has been open.

Three of them - Leitrim, Waterford and London - have won just one qualifier game each and are again ranked as outsiders in their respective engagements this year.

Carlow and Antrim have won only four games (same as Clare, who as beaten Munster semi-finalists, enter at the Round 2 stage this year) while Offaly have won only six qualifiers.

It's a depressing reflection on the second-chance system, which was introduced in 2001, to guarantee every county a minimum of two championship games.


It was also hoped that it would offer so-called weaker counties an opportunity to enjoy an extended stay in the championship.

There have been some successes in that regard, but the bigger picture shows a rather dreary landscape where early exits from the qualifiers are all too common.

It has led to a re-opening of the debate on the championship format, including suggestions that weaker counties enter a secondary championship, once eliminated from the provincial scene.

GAA president Aogán ó Fearghail talked of the need for a review immediately after taking office last February, pointing out that while counties were happy with the provincial championships, there was less enthusiasm for the qualifiers.

"Many of the counties are not comfortable with the format of the qualifiers - we will take note of that. I certainly think it's an area where we will listen to people and look for good proposals to work on," he said.

Qualifier results from the last 14 seasons show that 10 counties have a success rate ranging from 40 per cent down to seven per cent. At the other end of the scale, Kerry have never lost a qualifier game, while Dublin's only defeat came against Armagh in Croke Park in 2003.

Tyrone, Cork and Donegal have a qualifier success rate in excess of 70 per cent.

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