Under this proposal, the format of the All-Ireland senior football championship would be as follows:
PROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: Knock-out format as at present.
ALL-IRELAND QUALIFER SERIES
Round 1 Sixteen teams that do not qualify for provincial semi-finals
Round 2 Eight round 1 winners play eight defeated provincial semi-finalists
Round 3 Eight round 2 winners play each other on an open-draw basis
Round 4 Four round 3 winners play four provincial runners-up
(i) A Division 3 or 4 team drawn against a Division 1 or 2 team in rounds one, two or three of the qualifiers will be granted an automatic home-venue advantage.
(ii) The format of ‘A’ and ‘B’ sides to the qualifier draw will be ended.
The current quarter-final stage of the championship to be replaced by a Group Stage, contested by the four provincial champions and the four round 4 qualifier winners.
The group stage will be organised on a league basis with two groups of four teams, with each team playing the other three teams once. (See below for tie-breaking devices.)
Year 1 groupings (succeeding years could be based a rota system):
Team 1: Munster provincial winner
Team 1: Ulster provincial winner
Team 2: Connacht provincial winner
Team 2: Leinster provincial winner
Team 3: Ulster runner-up, or team that
defeats them in round 4
Team 3: Munster runner-up, or team that
defeats them in round 4
Team 4: Leinster runner-up, or team that
defeats them in round 4
Team 4: Connacht runner-up, or team that
defeats them in round 4
Order of fixtures in both groups
Team 1 v Team 2. Croke Park
Team 3 v Team 4. Croke Park
Team 1 v Team 3 or 4. Home advantage for provincial champions.
Team 2 V Team 3 or 4. Home advantage for provincial champions.
Team 1 v Team 3 or 4. Home advantage for Team 3 or 4.
Team 2 v Team 3 or 4. Home advantage for Team 3 or 4.
Home venues shall be subject to approval by the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) and shall meet the criteria set down by the National Facilities/Health and Safety Committee. CCCC shall make the draws for Rounds 2 and 3.
The above fixtures format for the group stage means that each team will have one game in Croke Park, one home game and one away game.
Tie-breakers in the event of teams finishing level on points (in order of application):
(i) Result of game between two tied teams (only where two teams are level on points) (ii) Score difference
- Highest score for
- Goals scored
- Play-off match
Group 1 winner v Group 2 runner-up
Group 2 winner v Group 1 runner-up
(to be played over one weekend)
Advantages of proposed structure
- It would provide a valuable enhancement of the championship by way of eight additional competitive matches contested by the country’s eight best teams. The group games would increase interest at the peak of the GAA season and provide a much wider opportunity for the country’s best teams to display their skills and the qualities of Gaelic football in summer playing conditions.
- The new structure would provide a more exacting pathway to the All-Ireland final: the finalists will have had to compete with three of the best teams in the country at the group stage, followed by a semi-final with a top-four team that came through the same test. This will have the effect of ensuring that the finalists will have been equally tested and that the two best teams in the country contest the All-Ireland final.
- Playing All-Ireland semi-finals over one weekend would generate greater excitement.
- The new structure would retain the provincial championships in their present form and confirm their importance in the context of the All-Ireland championship.
- All teams would continue to participate in the provincial championships and AllIreland qualifiers.
- The new structure should bring an overall boost in championship attendances.
- While income from the new group stage could be expected to exceed the gate receipts generated currently by the quarter-finals structure, it would be important to introduce a generous low-price ticket policy for supporters and families attending the group games.
- The new structure should increase commercial and broadcast income from the AllIreland senior football championship. A significant proportion of this increase should be ring-fenced for development of our games in less successful counties.
- The new structure would guarantee eight additional major games at venues within the provinces, which is particularly important in the context of the Association’s investment in stadiums other than Croke Park. In addition, the playing of decisive matches of the championship in provincial venues would counter the Dublin-centred bias of the current structure. It would also be likely to bring top teams to provincial venues that they would never otherwise visit in the championship.
- The traditionally less strong counties would be favoured by their being granted homevenue advantage in rounds one, two and three of the qualifiers. This would represent a significant benefit and encouragement to these counties and would provide them with attractive home fixtures.
- The fixtures schedule (see Appendix 1) demonstrates how, with minimal changes, the new proposed structure could have been played in 2016. This is not necessarily the best available schedule. It is simply based on eliminating the semi-finals in the Allianz Football League (which has already been agreed), bringing forward the finals of the Allianz Leagues (the football final by two weeks and the hurling final by one week), and, in the Ulster football championship, playing the preliminary game and one first round game on the same weekend. The schedule shows how the All-Ireland hurling final could have been played on 21 August. This is two weeks earlier than at present.
- It will be noted that the final round of games in the group stage, which eliminates four teams, would be played one week later than the last of the quarter-finals in the current structure. However, twenty-four teams would have been eliminated from the football championship by the third week in July. This is two weeks earlier than at present. This is a critical point, as it is much more beneficial for clubs to have their county players available to them in July and August. In the period between the end of the Allianz League and the beginning of the championship, county players are rarely available to their clubs; the only period when clubs can be guaranteed access to their county players is when the county team is eliminated from the championship.
- This proposed modification of the structure of the championship highlights once again the critical need to introduce comprehensive reform of our inter-county fixtures scheduling, but also the opportunities that exist to do so - there is clearly scope to further condense the fixtures schedule at both provincial and All-Ireland level by playing more games over a single weekend and by shortening the gaps between games. This would, in turn, redress the current imbalance between the amount of training and number of games. No re-structuring of the championship will be acceptable that does not contribute to a re-balancing of the inter-county fixtures schedule in favour of clubs.
- Extra time should be played in the event of a draw in all provincial and All-Ireland championship games. Only when teams are level after extra time should a replay take place. This change alone would have a very positive impact on the scheduling of both inter-county and club fixtures and would reduce the instances where counties are adversely affected by ‘the six-day turnaround’.