Radical change to the football championship and a split season – with county coming first up until All-Ireland finals in July and club in the second half of the year – will be among the options to be considered by the GAA in coming weeks.
Released on Wednesday afternoon, the updated report of the Fixtures Calendar Review Task Force (FCRTF) will be presented to counties around the country with a view to getting feedback and finalising recommendations in December for Central Council and next year’s annual congress.
The task force, whose initial interim report came out nearly a year ago, acknowledges that the split season – which wasn’t one of its original recommendations – had demanded further consideration after the major success of the idea last summer when it was introduced by necessity because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although originally debated by the task force, the split season hadn’t been advanced because of doubts that it would attract sufficient support.
“However, as mentioned above,” runs the report, “the positive experience for clubs of the ‘split season’ foisted on the GAA during 2020 has meant that this needed to be re-evaluated.
“The advantages identified in the original report were experienced at first hand by clubs in July, August and September this year, and the reaction has been significantly more favourable among players, clubs, and the membership generally than would have been expected. These included:
“ - no crossover between the inter-county and club seasons,
- no interruptions due to the County game,
- no ambiguity over player availability, and
- more regularity and certainty in the planning of club fixture programmes.”
On scheduling, the task force is strongly of the view that the intercounty season should be played in the first half of the year. This would entail All-Ireland finals in July, which represents a massive shift in thinking for the association given how hard-fought the comparatively mild change of bringing forward those finals by two weeks was just three years ago.
“The strong view was that the intercounty championships should be played first, with All Ireland finals in July.
“If the club championships were played in the first part of the season, county finals would likely have to be played as early as May in order to accommodate the subsequent provincial and All-Ireland club championships.
“Furthermore, non-championship club competitions are unlikely to thrive once club teams have exited the championship. By playing the intercounty season first, there is significant opportunity for league or non-championship club games to be played in late spring and early summer.
“Therefore and presuming there is acceptance of the concept of a split season in the consultation process, it is recommended that a motion be brought to Annual Congress in February 2021, to take effect in 2022, that the All Ireland Senior Finals shall be completed no later than week 29 of the calendar year.”
Proposals for the new football championship have already been released into the public arena and these have been tweaked after engagement with various stakeholders. The two options for further deliberation are:
1) A championship structured in four regional groups, based on the current provinces but streamlined so that each group contains eight teams. Tidying up the irregular numbers in the four provinces would be achieved by moving counties around on the basis of finishing position in the national league – either taking the bottom three counties in Leinster and the last one in Ulster and redistributing to Connacht and Munster OR determining what counties have to move by staging a preliminary competition.
2) Repositioning the national league to the summer months and using final positions as the basis for the All-Ireland championship. The top five counties in Division One and the top three in Division Two would contest All-Ireland quarter-finals. Winners of Division Three and Four would also have a chance to enter the Sam Maguire whereas other counties from the lower divisions would enter the Tailteann Cup, the tier 2 competition ratified by special congress last year but deferred because of the pandemic. This option would see provincial championships taking the place of league competitions in the spring.