GAA Football

Kenny Archer: Allianz Football League format works well at top and bottom

Cavan and Roscommon will both find it tough up in the top flight of the Allianz Football League. 

MEMORIES are what you remember.

Perhaps that's not worth putting on a T-shirt or a tea towel, but it's deeper than it seems.

The idea that the National Football League should return to its 'traditional' format of Divisions 1A, 1B, 2A, and 2B is let down by the fact that this system was only introduced in 1991 (as far as I can tell).

Even then it only lasted for one season, replaced by an A-B-C-D format, before four seasons of Divisions 1-2-3-4 in the mid-Nineties, then another transitional season of A-B-C-D, before 1A-1B-2A-2B was deployed for almost a decade, from 1998-99 to 2007.

So the current 1-2-3-4 method, which has been in place since then, has been one of the longest running League formats of all.

The main complaint about the A-B-C-D format was the smaller number of matches between top teams. That has been rectified, but at a cost to the sides a level below that highest standard.

Of course 1-2-3-4 has its flaws, seeming to make the strong stronger – but it doesn't necessarily make the weak weaker.

Monaghan show what can be achieved with organisation and dedication, having climbed up to the top flight and stayed there in recent years.

Carlow are another prime example, the Barrowsiders fully supportive of this format, and they would oppose any change to the structures – not least because when they topped Division 4 back in 1985 the League was then re-structured for the following campaign and they found themselves in Division 3 South along with Kilkenny, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford again.

The opportunity is there for teams to make progress, and also for sides that aren't performing to slip down the pecking order.

Indeed my main criticism is that relegating a quarter of the teams from each of the top three divisions is a very high proportion of teams going down.

It might be better for only the bottom side to be demoted automatically with the penultimate team then facing a relegation/promotion play-off against the runner-up from the division below.

As it stands, this year's Division One is arguably weakened by the absence of Donegal, who were relegated despite some fine performances – and only due to a last-gasp draw with Mayo rather than a victory.

They showed their quality by going on to win the Ulster Championship in style and few would dispute that they are a 'top eight team'.

Division 2 will do Donegal little harm in terms of developing even more of their prolific young talent, but it might cost them when it comes to meeting other big teams in the Championship.

It does appear that having 1-2-3-4 rather than A-B formats counts against teams from outside the top flight. No team from outside Division 1 has collected the Sam Maguire Cup since 2002 – and even then Armagh had sealed promotion from Division 2A, as had beaten finalists Kerry.

However, there was already a divide developing between the 'A' and 'B' sides. Apart from Armagh, all the top teams from 2004 onwards were in 1A, following a re-shuffle - Kerry, Tyrone, Cork, Mayo, and Dublin.

The Dubs and Cork dropped down into Division 2 following the re-formatting for the 2008 season, but Dublin topped that section and the Rebels earning promotion the following year, providing the platform for future All-Ireland success for both counties.

Indeed Division One is now the template for the 'Super Eights' as well as ultimate All-Ireland success. Dublin, Kerry, Galway, and Mayo will all expect to reach the All-Ireland quarter-final group stages, Tyrone and Monaghan will have high hopes of being there again, and Roscommon and Cavan will have that in their sights.

Out of Division Two, only the aforementioned Donegal can consider themselves strong contenders for the 'Super Eights', although Armagh will be optimistic, as will Cork and Kildare.

Re-shuffling the football league back to 1A-1B-2A-2B could help that second tier of teams, giving them more matches against the big guns – but it's hard to see 'Sam' heading out of Dublin and if it doesn't stay there it will surely go to another current Division 1 team.

Hurling currently has greater depth and competitiveness than football at the top level. Somewhat confusingly, Division 1B in hurling is basically a Division 2 – but the All-Ireland winners over the past two seasons have both come out of that tier, namely Galway and Limerick.

Those two will be fancied again this year for the Liam McCarthy Cup, but you wouldn't rule out Cork, Clare, Kilkenny, Tipperary, or Waterford, maybe even Wexford.

The National Hurling League is due to be re-jigged for next year, with supposedly more balance between Divisions 1A and 1B, although as pointed out that has not counted against teams from that latter section in recent years anyway.

Although there may be complaints from football teams in the middle, those outside the top flight but rarely, if ever, in Division Four, there's no great call to alter the football format.

In fact, if you're talking about tradition, there's more of a case for the League to be organised into five or six divisions, as was the case in the Sixties and Seventies, and/or on a regional basis, the way it started out, and as partly applied to the lower teams for many years.

Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney has again floated the idea of expanding the League into a full home and away format, meaning 14 matches for each county involved.

Perhaps, though, a return to the 'crossover' play-offs of the past, involving the best teams from all four divisions, would be a good compromise that could maintain standards and also encourage improvement.

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