Tuesday 20 February 2018

When in doubt, opt for change

How the GAA have changed Championship/League formats no fewer than 17 times since 1997.

Allianz Hurling League

Change 1 (1997)

The traditional autumn start (four rounds were played in October-November up to then) was abandoned in favour of a spring launch and an autumn finish.

It started on March 9, with the group games continuing until June 1, thus overlapping with the provincial championships (Leinster started on May 18, Munster on May 25).

The league semi-finals (Tipperary v Galway and Kilkenny v Limerick) were scheduled for August, with the final in October. Tipperary were the only one of the four league semi-finalists to reach the All-Ireland final and played just one of their first-choice 15 against Galway on August 23.

They lost by 11 points. Limerick ousted Kilkenny in the other semi-final and beat Galway in the final in October.

Starting the league in March was a success as it drew big crowds, but overlapping with the championship and deferring the semi-finals/final until the autumn failed.

Change 2 (1998)

Division 1 split into 1A and 1B (six sides in each), with semi-finals between the top two in each group. Final played in mid-May.

Change 3 (1999)

Slight change to format as Divisions 1A and 1B were increased to seven teams each.

Change 4 (2002)

Divisions 1A and 1B reverted to six-team groups.

Change 5 (2003)

Divisions 1A and 1B continued with six teams, but the top three in each group played off against each other (three more rounds) with the leading two qualifying for the final in what was their ninth game. The bottom three in each group also played off against each other over three rounds, with the lowest placed being relegated.

Change 6 (2006)

Divisions 1A and 1B still had six teams, but the latter stages were amended so that the winners in both groups qualified directly for the semi-finals with second and third playing off in quarter-finals to join the top two in the last four.

Change 7 (2009)

Divisions 1A and 1B were replaced with 1 and 2, comprised of eight teams each, with the top two in both groups qualifying directly for the finals.

Change 8 (August 2011)

Divisions 1A and 1B (six counties each), with the top two qualifying directly for the finals, was voted in by Central Council, but came under immediate fire from eight of the top counties, who lobbied for a return to an eight-team Division 1.

Change 8 (October 2011)

A special Central Council meeting rejected the call for a return to eight-team divisions, but also changed their August decision, adding semi-finals in Division 1.

Change 9 (December 2012 )

Central Council decided that from 2014 on, four quarter-finals will be added to the knockout stages.

All-Ireland SHC

Change 1 (1997)

Beaten Leinster and Munster finalists re-entered at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage, where they played Galway or the Ulster champions.

Change 2 (2002)

All-Ireland qualifiers were introduced, giving all beaten counties (except the Leinster and Munster champions, who lost All-Ireland semi-finals) a second chance.

Change 3 (2005)

All-Ireland qualifiers extended to a round-robin format, involving two groups of four counties. All-Ireland quarter-finals introduced.

Change 4 (April 2007)

Congress voted to change the qualifier system, cutting the round-robin groups from two to one, followed by straight knockout. All-Ireland quarter-finals to be cut from four to two with Leinster and Munster champions going directly into the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Change 5 (October 2007)

The Congress decision of the previous April was rescinded by Special Congress without ever being implemented. A slightly amended version was agreed on, involving the scrapping of the round-robin phase in favour of knockout qualifiers.

Change 6 (2009)

Galway and Antrim entered the Leinster championship.

Change 7 (2010)

It was decided that there would be no relegation from the Liam MacCarthy Cup tier until after 2013. In the meantime, Christy Ring Cup winners had the option of deciding whether to play in Tier 1 or 2.

Change 8 (2013)

Central Council decided last Saturday to defer a decision on proposed changes until its next meeting in January. The proposals envisage reducing from 15 to 13 the number of counties competing for the MacCarthy Cup between 2014 and 2016.

It also involves Laois, Antrim, Carlow, Westmeath and London playing off to produce one winner who would join Kilkenny, Galway, Dublin, Offaly and Wexford in the Leinster championship proper. If passed, it will come into force in 2014.

Martin Breheny

Irish Independent

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