With change now inevitably on the way, it’s time to tackle this old issue one more time. As we all know, the last three championships have witnessed an increase in appetite for a revamp of football’s premier competition. The main issues plaguing the organisation are as follows:
Championship does not ‘really’ get underway until August: The formative stages of this year’s championship have actually seen a marked improvement in excitement levels when compared to the 2013 and 2014 editions. That said, more often not, the original statement definitely holds true, and the inter-county season is generally dominated by what takes place between August and mid-September. The biggest sport in this country should be doing an awful lot better than that.
One-sided games and lack of a meaningful tier two competition: Longford have actually had a very successful 2015 so far, yet their overwhelming loss to Dublin was the match that really cranked up the pressure for change. In the aftermath of that game, Longford themselves handed out a beating to Carlow, which should be enough to illustrate just how hopeless a situation the traffic light county find themselves in. A talented inter-county footballer in Carlow has nothing to look forward to on the game’s biggest platform.
Proposals for a championship have flocked like pigeons to a lovely looking crouton dropped in Trafalgar Square. Some proposals have been okay, others have been really, really awful, and I cannot overstate that point. Images of Ted Crilly destroying a car in his efforts to fix a tiny dent come to mind. Here are some of the main ideas put forward:
The Champions League System: A proposal that I was a supporter of myself until recently enough. This would see two separate competitions, a tier one and tier two, contested between sixteen teams in each with four seeded groups of four. One match at home, one away, one at a neutral venue, and then on to the All-Ireland quarter-finals. It’s not a bad proposal, in fact it’s a very good one. But it would leave the provincial championships cut off from the main event, left to while away the time with its friends Wilson and Tom Hanks. Last Sunday’s epic Munster Final was a timely reminder of just how much the provincial championships actually mean, even to the likes of Kerry and Cork. The competitions have more soul than James Brown ever had, even if we do need a reminder every now and then.
Four groups of eight teams: Cat.
The McGuinness Proposal: Definitely the best proposal thus far. Jim McGuinness suggested two sixteen team championships for tier one and tier two teams. Qualification to the tier one competition would be awarded to the top eleven teams in the league, the winners of the previous year’s tier two event, and the final four places would go to the provincial championship winners. However, it does not suggest that provincial champions should be given a boosted seeding, which I believe they should be entitled to, and qualification to the tier one competition is weighted far too much in favour of league form as opposed to what happens in the provinces. I believe Westmeath and Sligo should be rewarded for reaching a provincial final. Under the McGuinness proposal, they would not be.
The Evans Proposal: Very like the McGuinness proposal, but improved, in my opinion. The top four seeding places would go to the four provincial champions. For the sake of illustration, we’ll say that the four favourites will win the provincial finals, thus meaning that Dublin, Donegal, Mayo and Kerry would be seeded from one to four. They would be placed in the aforementioned order based on league form. So this is how qualification looks so far:
The next four places would be given to the top six teams in Division One: Cork, Monaghan, Dublin, Donegal, Mayo and Kerry. Of these six, only Cork and Monaghan have not already qualified, thus leaving some qualifying places spare.
The next position would go to the winners of the previous year’s tier two competition. For the purpose of this article, we’ll pretend that one took place last year, with Tipperary beating Laois in the final. Tipperary are now seeded seventh. The next five places are handed out between the provincial runners-up and tier two champions runners-up, with the order decided through league ranking. This adds Laois, Sligo and Westmeath to the reckoning, as Cork and Monaghan have already qualified.
While the criteria suggested up to this point would hand out qualification to sixteen teams, it’s inevitable that teams would qualify more than once, thus leaving places spare. In this situation, six places would still have to be filled. These would be administered through league form. In this situation, Tyrone and Derry (relegated from Division One) would be ranked below the two teams promoted from Division Two (Roscommon and Down) for seeding purposes. That would mean that the line-up for the Tier One Championship would provide the following mouth-watering first round clashes:
Dublin (1) v Galway (16)
Laois (8) v Sligo (9)
Kerry (4) v Tyrone (13)
Cork (5) v Down (12)
Mayo (3) v Derry (14)
Monaghan (6) v Roscommon (11)
Donegal (2) v Meath (15)
Tipperary (7) v Westmeath (10)
Home advantage could be decided by toss of a coin, as McGuinness suggested, with matches from the quarter-finals onwards played at Croke Park. This system leaves qualification as an achievable prize for every team in the country, gives excellent weight to the tier two competition with two qualification spots available, and reduces the imbalance of importance between National League and the Provincial Championships.
For the record, I haven’t forgotten the tier two competition, with seeding based on league form. Like McGuinness suggests, marquee matches in the tier two competition should be played as curtain raisers to tier one matches to promote it correctly. To be fair, it would be a tasty enough prospect in its own right:
Cavan (1) v London (16) / New York (17)
Longford (8) v Louth (9)
Kildare (4) v Carlow (13)
Clare (5) v Leitrim (12)
Fermanagh (3) v Waterford (14)
Limerick (6) v Antrim (11)
Armagh (2) v Wicklow (15)
Offaly (7) v Wexford (10)
Well, what else to say other than, you’re welcome!