GAA Football

Kenny Archer: 'Head to head' in Allianz Football League is an unfair head-wrecker

Cavan's defeat in Monaghan could prove doubly costly for them - as could the Farneymen's earlier loss in Roscommon. Pic Philip Walsh

MOST things sound better in French, but even our Gallic cousins couldn’t persuade me of the benefits of ‘tete a tete’ in a Gaelic sporting context.

‘Head to head’ should be a good thing, opponents duking it out against each other, with no one else involved.

Yet as regards the Allianz Football League ‘head to head’ is more often a cause of confusion and controversy.

It’s really remarkable that 22 of the 24 counties in the top three football divisions all still have something to play for (although that number is boosted by the postponed Louth-Westmeath game in Division Three, which complicates matters). As it stands, though, only Dublin and Armagh definitely have no hope of promotion and/or fear of relegation.

However, some teams could finish the campaign with a better overall record than another county and yet still suffer relegation or miss out on promotion – all because of the daft ‘head to head’ rule.

It’s bad enough that ‘head to head’ puzzles plenty of supporters, who don’t know that it just applies ‘where two teams only are involved’, NOT when three or more end up with the same points tally.

The methods of deciding positions when teams finish on the same number of points are all entirely sensible – as long as ‘head to head’ is removed from the equation(s).

First up, quite rightly, should be ‘Scoring difference’;

Then comes ‘highest total score for’, which should act as a reward for more attacking play;

Last of all is a play-off; decide matters on the pitch.

Instead, the result of one game can determine placings over a seven-match series.

I can’t even contemplate Division Three due to that Louth-Westmeath match.

Yet there are obvious anomalies in Division One and Two ahead of this weekend’s games.

In some ways it might seem unfair that Fermanagh could end up on 10 points in Division Two, the same as Donegal and Meath, having beaten both of those counties, yet still miss out on promotion to the top flight.

However, that would actually be the fairest outcome - as long as the Royals and the Tir Chonaill men still had a better scoring difference than the Ernemen.

Fermanagh could actually benefit from ‘head to head’ in a different scenario – if they draw with Meath, they would go up even if Donegal or Kildare also finished on nine points (and with a better scoring difference than the Ernemen) because Rory Gallagher’s men have beaten both of them.

What is the actual point of a league if it’s then broken down into further mini-leagues?

The ‘head to head’ rubbish could also apply in Division One, and would save Roscommon if they manage to draw at home to Kerry while Monaghan lose in Mayo (and Cavan don’t defeat Dublin).

Monaghan would probably still have a better scoring difference than the Rossies (assuming they don’t get beaten by more than 12 points in Castlebar) but would go down because they lost to their relegation rivals earlier in the campaign. Away.

It’s ridiculous too that Cavan could beat the Dubs and conceivably end up with a better scoring difference than Monaghan, but would still be relegated because they lost to their neighbours last weekend. In Clones.

It’s not a fully fair league if teams don’t play each other home and away anyway. It’s definitely not fair that some sides have four home matches and others only three.

This isn’t a complaint because of any concern about correctly working out who has gone up or down when the matches end. I actually quite enjoy calculations and permutations. Besides, an international call-up means I’ll be at Pairc an Windsor on Sunday.

Mayo might miss out on a place in the final even though they could end up with a better scoring difference than Galway – all because they lost to their Connacht rivals in round five.

Tyrone could also finish level on nine points with Mayo and have a better scoring difference – but be placed below them because the westerners won their earlier meeting in Healy Park.

At least in those two scenarios the advantage would go to a team that won a (previous) game away from home, but it’s still stupid to give greater weight to one particular match out of seven.

The football league is generally brilliant, but ‘head to head’ is a blight.

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It’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for Northern Ireland’s chances of direct qualification to Euro 2020, having been dumped into a group alongside Germany and the Netherlands.

The upside of the schedule is that their four matches against Estonia and Belarus precede the meetings with those two big guns.

It may seem unlikely, but NI must believe that they can take something from some of the games against the Germans and/or the Dutch.

There’s always the hope of an upset in sport, especially in a low-scoring code like soccer.

Even in others, you never know. My friends and I cheered ironically when Scotland scored their first try at Twickenham and left the bar we were in, heading to one without TVs, never thinking that the Scots could draw, never mind almost win the match.

The weekend win for Tyrone over Gaelic football’s current kingpins, Dublin, also reminds us that no team should be written off or talked up too much.

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Moaning about minor sporting matters seems almost silly after the tragic deaths at the Greenvale in Cookstown at the weekend.

Deepest sympathy and condolences are extended to the friends and families of the three teenagers who died: Morgan Barnard, Lauren Bullock, and Connor Currie.

May they rest in peace.

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