Football

Championship rankings could be decided on incomplete National League campaign

GAA president Larry McCarthy (centre) alongside chairman of the Central Competitions Control Committee, Derek Kent (right), and the GAA’s games administration manager Bernard Smith at the launch of the 2024 Master Fixture Plan at Croke Park
GAA president Larry McCarthy (centre) alongside chairman of the Central Competitions Control Committee, Derek Kent (right), and the GAA’s games administration manager Bernard Smith at the launch of the 2024 Master Fixture Plan at Croke Park GAA president Larry McCarthy (centre) alongside chairman of the Central Competitions Control Committee, Derek Kent (right), and the GAA’s games administration manager Bernard Smith at the launch of the 2024 Master Fixture Plan at Croke Park

NATIONAL Football League positions and rankings for next summer's Championships could yet be decided on an incomplete campaign.

That is one intriguing nugget that has emerged from the GAA's publication of its Master Fixtures plan for 2024 with a new regulation introduced in the fine print for the football league specifically.

It states that if games are postponed, resulting in the full programme of matches not being completed in a given division by March 30/31, then final positions will be determined by 'league positioning at the end of the last full round of fixtures played in that division'.

GAA Games Administration Manager Bernard Smith noted that "we were lucky last year in the National League that we had only one game postponed and it went from a Saturday to a Sunday".

There are also three 'pick up weekends' in the upcoming football league schedule, in mid-February and mid-March, along with the actual finals weekend itself on March 30/31, which would make way for any outstanding regulation game, so some wiggle room clearly exists.

But with schedules now tightly compacted as a result of the condensed split season, and final league positions required for Tailteann and Sam Maguire Cup purposes, it was felt that a plan was required in the event that poor weather disrupted a significant portion of the league.

"All our games went ahead as scheduled last year but it is a case that a lot of it is at the mercy of the weather," said Smith, explaining why the provision was required.

The National League will begin on Saturday, January 27 with Monaghan travelling to Croke Park (7.30pm) in Division One and Ulster champions Derry being hosted by Kerry in Tralee (5.30pm). Both ties will be a repeat of All-Ireland semi-finals played between the teams last July.

Fermanagh, Cavan and Armagh will all open their Division Two campaigns that same day and the second tier will climax with a dramatic 'Super Saturday' style final round on March 23.

All four Division Two games will throw in at 7pm that evening, a schedule made possible by the availability of floodlighting at the host grounds in Cavan (v Fermanagh), Cork (v Armagh), Donegal (v Meath) and Carlow (v Louth).

With final league positions in Division Two crucial now, the race for Sam Maguire Cup qualification should capture the country's attention that day with the final round of Division One, Three and Four fixtures all kept for the following afternoon.

Meanwhile, qualification criteria for the revamped 2025 National Hurling League, a structure which the GAA believes will breathe life into an increasingly inconsequential competition, has also been confirmed.

From 2025, the top seven teams in the country will play in Division 1A with the next seven teams in 1B. Division Two, Three and Four will then follow with seven teams in each.

The current Division 1A and 1B groups, which will pertain for 2024 before being overhauled, have six teams in each and there is no difference in terms of strength.

It means that five counties currently in the league's top tier will be demoted to the new Division 1B for 2025.

The top three teams from both 1A and 1B in the upcoming 2024 leagues will go forward to the new 1A in 2025. The fourth placed team from 1A or 1B in 2024 with the best record will also join the revised top tier.

Division 1B in 2025 will comprise the other fourth placed team from next season's 1A or 1B, the teams finishing fifth and sixth in each division and the winners and runners-up from 2A.

"It's putting a bit of life back into the leagues because it had lost its sparkle," said Derek Kent, chairman of the GAA's Central Competitions Control Committee.