Derry CCC offers radical solution to club-county clashes

The whole Derry squad will be available to their clubs for every league and championship game in 2018. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
The whole Derry squad will be available to their clubs for every league and championship game in 2018. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

DERRY’S inter-county players will be available for all 15 senior club league games in 2018 as the county undertakes a radical reform of its club structures.

In a move almost unprecedented in the modern era, the Oak Leaf county board – led by CCC chairman Stephen Barker – have made the availability of inter-county players to their clubs a priority constructed in a three-year plan constructed to coincide with changes to the national calendar.

Every senior and reserve club player will be guaranteed a minimum of 20 games on consecutive weekends between April and August.

Derry’s football leagues have long operated with 16 senior clubs, either as a 16-team league or two divisions of eight teams, as was the case for a spell towards the end of the 2000s.

However, while 16 teams will continue to participate in the senior football championship, the top flight of club league football will be cut to 12 teams.

It will become Division 1A, and will be made up of the top 11-placed teams from this year’s Division One as well as the winner of a playoff between the 12th placed club and the winners of Division Two (intermediate).

The loser of that playoff will be one of the 12 teams to take their place in the new Division 1B, which will also have 12 teams.

The bottom four from this year’s Division One will go in along with the top seven from Division Two, as well as the winner of a playoff between the eighth-placed team and the winners of Division Three.

That will leave 14 teams in the new Division Two (currently known as Division Three) and could, in the long-term, help the county improve its poor record at provincial intermediate and junior club level.

While the leagues will change, the championships will continue to be structured largely as they have been for the past few seasons, with the top 16 clubs participating at senior level, 12 at intermediate and 10 at junior.

The team winning Division Two in 2018 will need to play off for senior league status in 2019, but they will automatically be granted a play in the senior championship ahead of the 16th placed team in Division One.

With promotion and relegation set to become a more pressing issue this year as a result of the restructure, Derry CCC has moved to ensure that county players will be available to their clubs for all league games.

That will continue in 2019 and beyond, though there will be fewer league games for Division 1A and 1B clubs than at present.

Two single-round 12-team leagues will give each club 11 league games, with a straight knockout format for championship guaranteeing just one more outing.

Crucially, however, clubs will continue to play football and hurling during the summer months rather than sitting idle waiting on their county players.

The district cups, which are long-standing competitions split into north and south Derry and graded according to league placings, will also be restructured and take on a round-robin format that will offer each club a minimum of seven games each in the summer spell that they are without their county players.

Because of the decision to move the U20 inter-county competition to summer, the clubs would unavoidably be without the whole senior, U20 and Christy Ring hurling panels between early May and mid-July.

The plan would see them play five weeks of club league football between the end of the National League and the start of inter-county championship.

Based on the assumption that Derry will not make it as far as an All-Ireland football semi-final, the players will be back with their clubs for six weeks to play the conclusion of the league season before club championship begins.

Key points of Derry CCC proposals

- Top 11 from 2018 Division One will play in new Division 1A in 2019

- 12th placed team will playoff with winners of Division Two for the final place in 1A

- Bottom four (13-16) from 2018 Division One will drop into new Division 1B for 2019

- They will be joined by the top seven from 2018 Division Two

- 8th placed team in 2018 Division Two will playoff with winners of 2018 Division Three for the final place in 1B

- The remaining 11 clubs will play in the new 2019 Division Two, which replaces the current Division Three

- From 2019, all leagues would have two-up, two-down promotion and relegation

- The Senior Football Championship will continue to comprise of 16 clubs, with the top four from Division 1B joining the Division 1A clubs

- County players would be available to clubs for all league and championship games