Group proposal will 'invigorate' Championship - Aogan O Fearghail
GAA president Aogan O Fearghail has promised the proposal to replace the All-Ireland quarter-finals with a novel new group stage would "enliven" and "invigorate" the football Championship if introduced.
O Fearghail and director-general Paraic Duffy presided at the launch of a discussion document on Championship reform which, if passed at November's central council meeting, will go forward to next year's congress and could ultimately be in place for 2018. The document is known to represent several months of work by Duffy in particular and, while the Monaghan man consistently described it as "modest" reform, the introduction of two new groups of four to produce the All-Ireland semi-finalists is an entirely new departure.
The provincial Championships would continue as normal - in line with the apparent will of counties - while the Qualifiers would remain largely untouched, but the Championship would explode into life from there on in. Duffy's proposal is that two groups of four teams would play-off to produce four All-Ireland semi-finalists, the top two teams from each group.
Group one would consist of the Munster and Connacht champions and the Ulster and Leinster runners-up, or whoever defeats them in round four of the Qualifiers. Group two would constitute the Ulster and Leinster champions, as well as the Munster and Connacht runners-up, or whoever defeats them in round four of the Qualifiers.
Compared to the current four quarter-finals, it would mean an extra eight games, though the impending abolition of the league semi-finals would mean just six extra matches over the entire season. The first round of group games would be at Croke Park, the second would guarantee home advantage for the provincial winners and the third game would give home advantage to teams three and four in each group.
That would mean Dublin would be taken out of Croke Park at the height of the Championship, breaking what the document termed the "Dublin-centred bias of the current structure". Based on this season's results, group one would be made up of Kerry, Galway, Donegal and Mayo, while Tyrone, Dublin, Tipperary and Clare would form group two.
Duffy admitted it's not a "magic bullet" formula, but detailed the various benefits, not least of which is the extra space that would be afforded for club activity if the proposal is carried: "The strong desire from central council was that we would condense, not lengthen, the playing season," he said.
"And this proposal does condense it. More games, yes, but within a condensed timeframe. This is a modest enough proposal. There is no magic bullet, no easy solution to this. We are not making any great claims that this is absolutely radical, it is a modest and, we think, sensible proposal.
"In terms of the group stage, the first round would see the provincial champions playing each other and the reason for that is that two of the provincial champions are obviously going to lose, unless you get a draw, so it means that, after the very first round, two of the provincial champions will be down three points and it means the excitement will last to the end of the group.
"I also feel an important part of the proposal is playing the All-Ireland semi-finals over one weekend. That would be great from a fixtures point of view, the excitement would be fantastic, two semi-finals over one weekend, on the Saturday and Sunday, a brilliant weekend for the GAA in August."
The proposal would end the current A and B structure to the All-Ireland Qualifiers and would guarantee weaker counties a home game in the first three rounds if drawn against a Division One or Two team. Duffy feels the proposal has great scope for condensing the Championship and an accompanying notional calendar had the All-Ireland hurling final brought forward to August 21, with the football final on September 18.
Based on this year's results, the proposal would have eliminated 24 counties three weeks earlier, clearing vital time for club fixtures.
KEY POINTS OF CHAMPIONSHIP PROPOSAL
- Provincial championships will remain as they are.
- The All-Ireland Qualifier series will remain largely intact. However, a Division Three or Four team drawn against a Division One or Two team in rounds one, two or three will be granted home advantage.
- The current quarter-final of the All-Ireland series to be replaced by a group stage, contested by the four provincial champions and the four round four Qualifier winners. It will be comprised as follows: group one - Munster and Connacht champions, Ulster and Leinster runners-up or the teams that beat them in round four of the Qualifiers; group two - Ulster and Leinster champions, Munster and Connacht runners-up or the teams that beat them in round four of the Qualifiers.
- The format for the group stage is each team will have one game in Croke Park, one home game and one away game.
- The format for the All-Ireland semi-finals will be as follows: group one winner v group two runner-up and group two winner v group one runner-up.
- The new group stage will provide eight additional Championship games, increasing attendances and revenue, which would be "ringfenced for development of our games in less successful counties".
- The All-Ireland semi-finals would be played over one weekend in August.
- The 'six-day turnaround' to be largely addressed by a blanket ban on replays, unless games finish level after extra-time.
- Following a discussion by counties, the proposal will be considered at November's central council meeting and, if favoured, will go forward to February's annual congress as a formal proposal. If passed, it would come into effect for 2018.