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Joe Brolly lays out a compelling alternative to the Championship structure

Joe Brolly

“My vision of future covers all the bases. Players will be excited by it. It will be genuinely competitive”

Former RTÉ Sunday Game Pundit and current Sunday Independent columnist, Joe Brolly, has laid out his proposal for an alternative All Ireland Football Championship structure, and it’s very good. Writing in today’s edition, Brolly states at the heart of any successful attempt to re-vitalise the Championship is offering respect to the weaker counties.

Joe Brolly RTÉ

GAA Football Championship Proposals

His proposals come as the GAA are set to debate new structures for the Football Championships later this year. This follows another Championship which has been heavily criticised for one sided results from critics including Joe Brolly.

Two proposals will go before congress with different formats.

Firstly, Proposal A would see the provincial championships retained.

There would be four groups of eight created. Some Leinster and Ulster counties would switch to Munster and Connacht to balance numbers. Furthermore, each province would have two groups of four for a round-robin phase. As a result, the winner of each group will progress to the relevant provincial final.

The second and third-placed teams (16 in total) will progress to Round 1 of the All Ireland Series.

The fourth-placed teams, only from Division 3 and 4, in each group would head into the knock-out Tailteann Cup.

There would then be three rounds of qualifiers. This would determine the four teams who would take on the provincial champions in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Writing in the Sunday Independent, Joe Brolly criticised the first proposal.

He said: “In 1652, Cromwell ethnically cleansed the good land in Ireland by offering the native Irish the option, ‘To hell, or to Connacht’. In that vein, the first championship reform proposal being considered by the GAA is that several counties will be exiled to a different province. This includes one county being banished from Ulster to Connacht.

“You can be sure the GAA will not slap an extradition warrant on Tyrone and that Dublin will not be subjected to forced rendition from Leinster. Banish Fermanagh or Carlow and the likes, sure nobody gives a damn about them.”

GAA All Ireland Football Championship Second Proposal


Proposal B would see the National League format merged with the Championship. This means each team playing seven matches in their respective divisions, it would then filter into an All-Ireland series. The preliminary All Ireland quarter finals would see the teams that finish second and third in Division 2 would be drawn to play the teams that finish top of Division 3 and 4.

The All Ireland quarter finals proper would see the top four teams from Division 1 drawn to play against the team that finishes 5th in Division 1, the Division 2 winners and the winners of the preliminary quarter-finals. The traditional semi finals and final would follow.

Brolly was less critical of that one, but took a swipe at the proposed name.

He said: “The second option is a slightly better one, as seeding is based on league performance. In this plan, only the teams that finish top of Division 3 and 4 would gain entry to the Sam Maguire, or rather the preliminary round. The bottom 16 go into the Tailteann Cup, a terrible name which personifies dullness and second-class citizenship. No one even knows what it means. I asked my kids. Not a clue.”

“It is a plan that touches every base and one that I strongly feel will create a vibrant two-tier championship.”

Joe Brolly

His idea would see the top 16 teams challenge for the Sam Maguire and the next 16 compete in the second tier.

He wrote: “The 16 top teams would compete for the Sam Maguire. The next 16 would compete in the second tier, which I would call The Páidí Ó Sé or The Kevin Heffernan. Something with oomph. Something that affords respect to the teams competing for it.”

Additionally, the top six teams in Division 1 and the two promoted from Division 2 would make up the top eight seeds. The two relegated from Division 1 would be seeded nine and ten. Number 11 would be the third-placed team in Division 2. Number 12 would be the winner of the second tier All-Ireland from the previous year.

The final four places in the top 16 would be reserved for the provincial championship winners. If the provincial winners are already seeded in the top 11 via their league position, then the top 15 league teams plus the previous year’s Tier 2 winners would make up the 16 teams in the race for Sam.

In practice, it would mean the provincial championships would be stand-alone tournaments run off quickly. At their conclusion, the two groups of 16 would be settled and the All-Ireland series would begin. It would be knockout, starting with the last 16 round with the top seed playing the 16th seed. It would also mean the lower seed would get home advantage.

Joe Brolly believes that his idea would similarly create competitiveness while offering an incentive for every game.

Furthermore, with the second tier games acting as curtain raisers to the Sam Maguire games, it would ensure big crowds for the games.

It remains to be seen if the GAA will take heed of his proposal.

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