League-based football championship among GAA fixture proposals

Whole report will be discussed at regional meetings with various stakeholders

Lee Keegan celebrates Mayo’s victory over Kerry in the  Allianz League Division One  final  at Croke Park last March. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Lee Keegan celebrates Mayo’s victory over Kerry in the Allianz League Division One final at Croke Park last March. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

A potentially league-based football championship plus a choice of options for how additional club weekends might fit into the county season are the main ideas in the long-awaited report of the GAA’s Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force.

Interest in the recommendations will primarily focus on the proposed options for reform of the football championship. The task force felt that the hurling championship was satisfactory as it is but for a couple of tweaks.

The whole report will be brought around the country to a number of regional meetings with various stakeholders.

It essentially advances two new formats for football: the previously floated (by the FRC second report in 2013) transformation of the provincial championships into four equally sized groups of eight counties and an even more radical switching of the national league into the summer as the basis of the championship with the provincial championships played off in the spring.

The third option is that the current format – the round-robin Super 8s, which in 2020 will be on the last of its experimental three years – remains with a couple of changes to tighten its schedules.

Together with the suggested new formats are two distinct scheduling models: ‘multiple windows,’ in which club and county dates interweave through the summer and ‘spring window,’ which is essentially the current arrangement with a gap between early inter-county activity and the start of the championship, from April into early May.

The ‘split season’ model was considered but not recommended. This would involve a county season running for the first six months with club taking over exclusively for the second half of the year.

The new championship options will involve more inter-county matches being played but within a smaller period of time.

“I think what we have attempted to do here is have a much more efficient inter county footprint the period,” said task force member Conor O’Donoghue.

Without doubt the most far-reaching suggestion is Option 2 and its national league format for the championship. This would involve the top four counties in Division One and the top two in Division Two advancing to the quarter-finals. They would be joined by the play-off winners of a round between the winners of Division Three and Four and the third and fourth counties in Division Two.

Association president John Horan, who has indicated his own approval for this option, was asked at the report launch about the unfairness of the fifth-ranked team in the top flight being eliminated while the top side in the bottom division was still involved. He indicated that the precise format was still up for discussion.

“You’re talking about the top four; you could increase that to six and solve it very easily by having additional preliminary quarter-final matches.”

This was something of a theme. Task force secretary Feargal McGill explained why the recommendations in a number of cases stopped short of being too specific - such as the mechanisms for shifting counties between provinces to facilitate Option 1’s four-by-eight format.

Reject anything

“We don’t want anyone to reject anything in theory, to begin with. When we get down to the specifics, if people don’t like the specifics that’s grand. But it is very difficult to move forward in any meaningful way unless you get a good idea from people that we like roughly where this is going. We will work the specifics later.”

Other specifics include whether the Munster and Leinster hurling round robins should be expanded from five counties to six. That has been left to the Hurling Development Committee to finalise.

In ways the report can be seen as an invitation to discuss rather than a set of tablets handed down for implementation.

Task force chair Eddie Sullivan said the 64-page document would be up for discussion.

“I think a consultation process will be the best chance of implementing the new proposals. The proposals are acceptable, practical and meet the needs of the various stakeholders.”

Asked what difference there was between the final report and the proposals of the Club Players Association, whose two representatives on the task force withdrew in November in protest at what they believed was an attempt to stifle radical changes, McGill said

“The CPA proposal, from memory, scheduled the league in seven successive weekends. I don’t think that’s feasible. In addition, any competitions you schedule in February and March and this has been proven in the past couple of years, you must include what we call ‘gap’ weekends or ‘catch-up’ weekends to allow for weather.”

It was accepted that the task of completing the All-Ireland club championship within the calendar year was not feasible for the foreseeable future. Next season’s All-Ireland semi-finals will be played before Christmas but the final will stay in January where it moves this season from its traditional St Patrick’s Day placing.

* The Task Force met on 12 occasions. More than 1,300 members and supporters took part in a detailed on-line survey and 50 written submissions were received on the subject.

Sample findings of the survey include 46 per cent saying that the provincial championships in football shouldn’t be retained and that just 19 per cent unreservedly approved of the Super 8 All-Ireland quarter-final format.

Task Force: Chair - Eddie Sullivan (Dublin), secretary - Feargal MacGill (Croke Park), Michael Martin (Wexford), Kevin O’Donovan (Cork), Stephen Barker (Derry), John Costello (Dublin), John Prenty (Mayo), Ronan Sheehan (Down and GPA), Michel Hyland (Galway), Séamus Woods (Tyrone), Conor O’Donoghue (Meath). Michael Higgins and Micheál Briody represented the Club Players Association until withdrawing on 18th November.

Football championship reform proposals:

Option 1: Provincial championships to be based on four groups of eight that would involve Ulster and Leinster counties migrating to Connacht and Munster.

Option 2: League to move to summer months with provincial championships taking place in the spring on a round-robin basis with Munster and Connacht being played in groups of six and Ulster and Leinster in two groups each of five counties.

Options 1 and 2 would exclude New York from the senior football championship.

Option 3: Retention of the current trial structure on a permanent basis with tweaks but the All-Ireland quarter-finals being played on a league basis, the Super 8s.

Hurling championship

Current format to be retained with the Hurling Development Committee to decide whether the Munster and Leinster championship round robins should be expanded to six counties.