GAA Football

Derry games review set to ditch back-door championship

2009 Derry champions the Loup were the first to come through the back-door to win the John McLaughlin Cup
Cahair O'Kane

THE Derry games review committee has recommended that the Oak Leaf’s controversial senior club football championship be disbanded in favour of a straight knockout format.

Further proposals on the composition of league football will mean new Derry boss Damian Barton will be handing over his players for a minimum of seven club football league games in 2016.

Their 18-page report, released to clubs on Tuesday, makes 11 key recommendations, one of which will see the current back-door format of the championship replaced, should Derry’s management committee decide to adopt the proposals.

Slaughtneil became only the second club to win the Derry SFC through the back-door when they overcame Coleraine in October. The current system has been in place since 2009, before which there was a hugely unpopular ‘round-robin’ system for two seasons.

All 16 senior football clubs were asked to consult their playing squads and 10 of them voted to revert to the traditional straight knockout format. Interestingly, 2015 winners Slaughtneil, beaten finalists Coleraine and semi-finalists Ballinderry were all against the change.

CCC member Stephen Barker, alongside fellow CCC member Breige O’Neill and former county chairman Seán Bradley, comprised the three-person committee. They met with 39 of the county’s 40 clubs in compiling their report, which also makes recommendations on the composition of club league football in Derry. Slaughtmanus were the only club that failed to attend any of the meetings.

Division One of the Derry football league, from which no-one is currently relegated outright, has been beset by end-of-season problems over the past few seasons, with teams at the bottom fashioning points from fixtures against opposition whose interest in league and championship have both already ended.

There were ructions in the county last year over players being prevented from playing for their clubs in the aftermath of the county’s Ulster Senior Football Championship win over Down. There have also been problems for dual clubs in recent years with playing through Derry hurlers’ campaign.

The GRC are proposing a system that will see the league effectively split in two for the purpose of fixtures, with clubs playing ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘H’ games.

The A games will see two teams from the top eight clubs, or two teams from the bottom eight, face each other. They will be guaranteed to have their county footballers and hurlers available for those games. The B fixtures will see a top eight team face a bottom eight team, for which they ‘may or may not’ have their county players available. Category H games will be played between dual clubs or clubs with players on the Derry hurling squad and will be played on B game days.

The games review committee also aims to have their league campaigns finished by the time the club championships start in August. They opted to propose the categorised games over a ‘starred games’ system, which the report says is too problematic in the event of constant changes to county squads.

“The problem with this system is that the county football squad can be an ever-evolving squad, with players coming and going and with match day squads involving different players from different clubs each game," the report read.

“Therefore, when fixtures are being put together months in advance, it is very difficult to select these star-game fixtures.”

It is also proposed that games be played across Friday night, Saturday evening and Sundays and that midweek games be kept to a minimum. Crucially for club players, the committee is also recommending a two-week holiday break on the second and third weeks of July. It is recommended that no club football or hurling be played at any level within the county, “allowing players and families to properly plan a holiday”.


Senior Football Championship reverts to straight knockout

Reserve matches before senior games

Intermediate Championship takes on round robin format. Two groups of four and two groups of three, with top two in each group progressing to quarter-finals

Junior Championship retains its current format

Senior Hurling Championship retains its current format

A two-week holiday period in July, free of club activity at all levels

Top team in each league wins the league and promotion

Bottom team in each league relegated with no play-offs

Fixtures to remain on dates and times as set out before season begins

Club weddings and function dates to be sent to CCC prior to 2016 calendar release

Intermediate and Junior Championship matches to be played as curtain raisers to SFC games

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