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Thu 07-Aug-2003 11:43
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Proposed New System for Provincial and All Ireland Championships
Given that it is one of the most conservative organisations on earth, the GAA has undergone a remarkable period of change in the last few years...
The qualifying competitions in hurling and, especially, football have been an enormous success, and the weekly round of televised games has become compulsory viewing for many GAA fans. The dire warnings that television would decimate attendances, that too many televised games would destroy popular interest, and that the backdoor would undermine the provincial championships, have all been hopelessly wide of the mark.
The GAA now has an unprecedented opportunity to put Gaelic games on a plane never before thought possible, but to do so it must embrace several further changes, the arguments for which have become compelling. In particular, several weaknesses which have become apparent in the qualifying system must be addressed. These include the varying lengths of time different counties have between games; the different number of prior games played by different counties when they meet; and the very unsatisfactory situation as regards punishments meted out to players for misdemeanours.
Most of the scheduling problems which have arisen with the qualifying competitions have arisen from the way they are intermeshed with the provincial championships. Since it has been shown that the popularity of the provincial championships has been little affected by the availability of the backdoor, it is high time now to take the next logical step and divorce these championships from the All-Ireland competitions. Furthermore, the latter competition should be run on a round-robin basis with regular fortnightly games which will give all counties the same interval between games.
An Moltóir’s prescription is to replace the National League competitions with the provincial championships which would themselves be run on a league system. This would have the added bonus of reviving interest in the national leagues, whose currency has become seriously devalued in recent years, with many leading counties showing little interest in competing seriously in them.
In hurling, AM's proposal is to have two provincial championships in Munster and Leinster, with six teams each – including counties from outside these provinces where they have qualified to play in them. Thus, if the proposed system were to begin in 2004, the twelve qualifying counties would be those which at the moment make up the incoming two sections of Division One of the National Hurling League. This would mean the five Munster counties (excluding Kerry) plus, say, Galway playing in the Munster championship with Antrim joining the five Leinster Division One counties in the Leinster championship.
This system would mean five games per county in the regular section of each provincial championship. If they had been played with this year’s calendar there would have been games on March 2, 16 and 30 and April 13 and 27, with the provincial finals involving the top two teams in each province taking place on May 11 and a National Final between the provincial champions on May 25. There would be four provincial football championships which would take place on the alternate Sundays to the hurling competitions with Leinster and Ulster divided into two groups. If the football started a week before the hurling, the provincial finals would take place on the weekend of May 4, with national semi-finals and finals over the following two weekends.
A key feature of the proposed system is that county club hurling leagues would take place on non-hurling weekends in the provincial championships (with the same applying in football) and that county players would play with their clubs on those weekends. This will create problems for dual players but these are relatively few and should not be accommodated. As most counties would not be involved in the provincial and national competitions after April, they would have all of May to either complete their league competitions or get their championships under way.
In hurling, there would also be a secondary league competition for those serious hurling counties not involved in the provincial championships i.e. Kerry, Down, Derry, Carlow, Kildare, Meath, Westmeath and Roscommon, divided into two groups. The winner of this competition would qualify to play in the senior provincial championship the following year, and would replace the loser of a play-off between the last-placed county in Munser and Leinster. If, say, Laois were relegated and Kerry were promoted, Kerry would enter the Munster championship and Galway would transfer to Leinster.
The All-Ireland championship would, in the first year, involve the same twelve counties as in the provincial championships, but divided into two groups by lottery. These would again play each other in a round-robin system, with the top two in each section qualifying for the All-Ireland semi-finals and the bottom county in each section playing off for relegation. The loser here would drop down to the Intermediate championship, to be replaced by the winner of the latter, which again would comprise the same eight teams as in the secondary league competition (who this time would play each other both home and away in two groups, giving six matches). There also would be Junior A and B championships involving the remaining counties, with promotion and relegation between all four championships. This would give the latter counties games in the summer which they do not get at the moment.
Based on the 2003 calendar, the round-robin games in the Senior Hurling Championship would take place on June 1, 15 & 29 and July 13 and 27. The semi-finals would take place on the weekend of August 10 and the All-Ireland final on August 24.
The Senior Football championship would, in the first year, involve the sixteen Division 1 counties divided into four groups by open lottery. There would be three games per group with the top two going on to the All-Ireland quarter finals and the bottom teams playing off for relegation to the Intermediate championship (involving the sixteen Division 2 counties) to be replaced by the Intermediate champions. These championships would also be completed by the end of August.
This system would give most counties all of August and all of them the entire month of September to complete their club competitions. It would provide all teams with an equal number of games with an even time period between them. Anyone receiving a yellow card in any game would be sin-binned for ten minutes. Anyone receiving two yellow cards would be sent off and miss the next game. Anyone receiving a straight red would be sent off and miss the next two games. Anyone receiving yellow cards in successive games would also miss one game. Pro rata sentences would apply to more consistent and/or serious offenders. Suspensions in intercounty competitions would not apply to club competitions and vice versa (except for very serious offences to be dealt with on their merits by the relevant disciplinary comittees).
The proposed system has all sorts of obvious advantages. It would provide a regular and predictable series of games for all counties. It would avoid the ridiculous situation which arose this year whereby Antrim had to play a battle-hardened Wexford without any serious prior game themselves. It would also avoid the situation where the provincial hurling champions have to sit on their hands for six weeks while their semi-final opponents engage in two top-class qualifying games. It envisages a simple and easily followed schedule of inter-county games which still leaves plenty of scope for completing club competitions at county level. It provides a clear progression path for weaker counties which wish to enhance their competitive standing.
However, because it is simple and logical, the proposed system has probably got a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving the arcane and obscure decision-making which pre
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