Club All-Ireland competitions to return as GAA unveils 2021 master fixture plan
Split season will start with intercounty before switch to club on July 25th
The GAA has announced the master fixture plan of their new streamlined and entirely split season for 2021, the intercounty league and championship taking place before the exclusive club window opens, with a return of the All-Ireland club finals in January of 2022.
As agreed by Central Council at the weekend, the new season will start on the last weekend of February with the Allianz Football League organised on a regional basis, but within the same divisional structure; the Allianz Hurling League top flight will be run as before, only the top team in 1A and 1B will face-off in the final.
Speaking via an online media briefing, Croke Park’s director of games administration Feargal McGill outlined the main reasons for putting the county before the club, adding that such a split season may become the permanent plan depending on the outcome of Congress in February.
“We didn’t have as much time available to us, as we would normally have, with the championship finishing so late,” said McGill. “We wanted to provide some proper down-time for counties, so that ate into the time available.
“This is a split season, the first time we’ve had a proper split season. The year gone by, it wasn’t properly split, because we started with county, went back to club, then finished again with the county. So it will be interesting to see how it pans out, but I think it will have huge positive benefits for the club game.
“We’re happy to see the provincial and All-Ireland club championships back in there, and we do think we’ve created a very good window for club competition during the summer. So overall we’re pretty happy, I think it’s a better games programme than the one we had in 2020, there’s definitely a little bit extra in there.”
Asked about the putting the county first, then club later, he added: “In the short-term view, there was no guarantee we’d be able to play club games in the first third of the year, because they’re not allowed now, under Level 3.
“But looking at the longer time, if the GAA are to continue with the split season, and that will be on the agenda at Congress in February, I think the right decision is still to put the intercounty game first. I think it’s a no-brainer, to be quite honest.”
Collective senior intercounty training is officially permitted from January 15th, and the 2021 championship draw will also be made in January.
In football, the league will be initially played out as follows
Division One North: Monaghan, Tyrone, Donegal, Armagh.
Division One South: Dublin, Galway, Roscommon, Kerry.
Division Two North: Meath, Mayo, Westmeath, Down.
Division Two South: Cork, Laois, Clare, Kildare.
Division Three North: Cavan, Fermanagh, Derry, Longford.
Division Three South: Tipperary, Offaly, Limerick, Wicklow.
Division Four North: Antrim, Louth, Leitrim, Sligo.
Division Four South: Carlow, Wexford, Waterford, London (if they are able to compete).
Each team will have three rounds of games, the top two in each divisional group qualifying for the semi-finals. The bottom two in each divisional quartet will go into relegation semi-finals where the losers of each are relegated.
The Allianz Hurling League will be organised on the same basis as this year. There will be All-Ireland qualifiers to allow for second chances, as opposed to this year’s purely knock-out format, used for the first time in 20 years.
Football’s Tier 2 Tailteann Cup will also take place, having been shelved this year because of the abbreviated season. However it was agreed that reigning provincial champions (including Cavan and Tipperary) will contest the Sam Maguire in 2021 regardless of their league status
The exclusive club window starts from July 25th, with county championships expected to conclude by October 24th. Provincial club championships will then run from October 16th to November 28th and the All-Ireland semi-finals in December followed by the finals in January of 2022
Asked about the possibility of getting supporters back in 2021, McGill said:
“That’s completely out of our hands, to be honest. We’d love to give you some positive news, it’s just a case of wait and see, but I think with vaccines and everything else, we have to be a little but optimistic that some supporters will get back in 2021.
“That also feeds into the question around county versus club first, and if we’d looked at this purely from a financial basis, we’d probably have run with club first, in the hope that towards the end of next year attendances might be back. But that would have been short-sighted, and not in the best interest of 450,000 club players. They have to be our priority.”
GAA 2021 Calendar – Master Fixture Plan
- No return to collective senior intercounty training before January 15th
- Senior intercounty challenge games allowed from start of February – due to Covid and its associated risks, no training or games that will involve an overnight stay are permitted during pre-season.
- No return to collective intercounty minor training (hurling and football) or U20 Football before Friday , February 5th; challenge games in these grades will be permitted from Friday, February 26th.
- No return to collective intercounty U20 hurling training before Friday, April 2nd. Challenge games will be permitted from April 23rd
- No provincial “pre-season” competitions
- The outstanding 2020 club championship games, as well as the Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cups and post-primary games, will also take place in the new year then providing they can be played in line with Government advice.
- Run from Feb 27th/28th to League finals weekend on April 3rd/4th
- “Pick up” weekend included – provision to allow competition to run over by one week if necessary
- Divisions will be split into North and South
- 4 teams in each group – based on geography
- 3 round-robin games per team
- Top two in each divisional group to league semis, followed by league final
- Bottom two in each divisional group to relegation semis – losers relegated
- Bottom teams in Division 4 to shield semis and final.
- Provision made to run either with London or without depending on restrictions.
- Run from Feb 27th/28th to league finals weekend on April 10th/11th
- “Pick-up” weekend included – provision to allow competition to run over by one week if necessary, also allowed for
- Run on same basis as in a normal year (Div 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3A, 3B) except no league quarter or semi finals – Division 1 league final will be Div 1A winners v Div 1B winners; top two teams in all other groups play the relevant league final.
- Provision made to run either with British-based teams (London, Warwickshire and Lancashire) or without depending on restrictions
2021 Football Championships
- Provincial knock-out championships with backdoor qualifier system and Tailteann Cup
- No round-robin quarter finals
- New York not involved in Connacht championship as this will take place in early April and impossible to plan for this currently – decision on their participation in Tailteann Cup to be made subject to restrictions (Tailteann date if they are involved is May 16th)
- Round 1 of qualifiers (if required) to be limited to teams that did not make their provincial semi-finals
- London participation to be a matter for Connacht Council based on restrictions (date is April 17th/18th if they are to be involved)
- 2021 Tailteann Cup (reigning provincial will remain in Sam Maguire, despite their league division status)
- For teams in Div 3 and 4 of the football league at the end of the 2021 league season (i.e. after promotion/Relegation process), that do not reach their respective provincial finals
- Preliminary round(s) to be organised if more than 16 eligible teams
- If New York are allowed participate, they will be drawn against an eligible team defeated in either Round 1 or a quarter-final of the provincial championships – game date May 16th (this may be a preliminary qualifier if more than 16 teams eligible).
- Recommended that provincial champions from the previous year – regardless of whether they are Division 3 or 4 Counties or not – are automatically included in Sam Maguire qualifiers even if they do not qualify for their provincial final in 2021
- Final to be a curtain raiser to the All-Ireland hurling semi-final on June 26th/27th
2021 Liam Mac Carthy Cup
- Provincial knock-out championships with back-door qualifier system (as in 2020) but with introduction of relegation to Mc Donagh Cup
- Munster: Limerick, Waterford, Tipperary, Clare, Cork
- Leinster: Kilkenny, Galway, Wexford, Dublin, Laois, Antrim (draw will be seeded)
- There will be 11 teams in Liam Mac Carthy in 2021 – there will be a preliminary round in the qualifiers between the two defeated quarter-final teams.
- Winners progress to qualifiers round 1 – Losers to Mc Donagh Cup 2022
2021 McDonagh Cup and 2021 Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cups
- Recommending McDonagh Cup winners are promoted in 2021 but do not have a back door into Liam Mac Carthy
- McDonagh Cup and LSHC Final to be on Saturday, 22nd May to ensure live TV coverage of McDonagh Cup final.
- Provincial knock-out competition
- No U20 league
- Window for championship March 27th/28th to final on May 1st/2nd (6 weekends)
- Provincial knock-out competition
- No All-Ireland semi-finals – All-Ireland final is Leinster winners v Munster winners
- Window for Championship May 22nd/23rd(with break for Leaving Cert) to All-Ireland Final on July 10th/11th
- All-Ireland final as curtain raiser to All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final
- U20 B hurling similar window (final on July 3rd)
Minor Hurling and Football
- Window – March 20th/21st to May 22nd/23rd
- Decoupled from senior All-Ireland Championships
- Development CCCC to bring forward proposals on how these should be structured.
- Main All-Ireland Finals to ideally be in Croke Park if possible
- All knock-out games in the above Championship competitions, will be subject to finish on the day regulations – 2 exceptions: All-Ireland senior football and hurling finals (Tier 1), which will have extra-time in the original fixture, and will be finish on the day in the event of a replay only.
2021 Club Window Provisions
- Club competitions – largely without county players – can take place in the spring and early summer months Covid regulations permitting.
- Uninterrupted main club championship window from July 24th/25th to October 23rd/24th
- Provincial club championship window primarily from October 16th/17th to November 27th/28th
- All-Ireland club championship semi-finals in December
- 2021 All-Ireland club finals to take place in January 2022