Kevin McStay: Here's an idea that just might work . . .
The story so far: Week 3 of the football championship completed, 11 football games played and for the record, the annihilations are as follows:
New York v Galway (+16 pts); Carlow v Laois (+17 pts); Tipperary v Waterford (+22 pts) and Dublin v Longford (+27 pts). It is wrong that this is allowed to happen.
A quick check of upcoming fixtures indicates, to me at least, that we are unlikely to see any more hammerings this season and I suppose, as a result, the controversy and debate will move on. As it always seems to do.
I have mentioned previously in this column my amazement that every county in Ireland and the hurling people on the national stage, long ago (nearly 100 years in the case of some counties) recognised that all teams can't possibly play in the top grade because of the ability and resources gap. And yet the game of Gaelic football at inter-county level believes the All-Ireland should be open to all comers. It just makes no sense.
But you will read a lot of column inches on this subject in the past few days, so instead of complaining and criticising, I thought it might prove beneficial to share an alternative proposal for a new championship with you.
This is not something I have just thought about this week. Indeed myself and a friend, Seamus Maher (Roscommon), a former member of CCCC, have already presented it to many interested parties, tweaked it following those presentations and kept tidying up the system over the past few years.
If nothing else, it will start the conversation, something some county boards, provincial councils and some officials in Croke Park seem unwilling to begin. It is not perfect and for sure it will need an examining eye but if fine-tuned I think it has possibilities.
One of our fundamental beliefs is that the Qualifiers have lost their appeal for counties who know they cannot compete at All-Ireland quarter-final level; the road trip to reach Croker hurts their club scene, county finances and their players do not see the effort as worthwhile.
First up, there is little point in proposing something that simply will not float - the plan must be realistic. So, straight away the design specifications are:
*There MUST be provincial championships.
*Every county MUST have something to aim for with championship promotion and relegation a feature of this new system.
*There MUST be sufficient games to offer Croke Park and so the natural consequence of this parameter is that we will have to retain quarter-finals, even though I prefer the old fashioned two semi-finals. I don't believe losing provincial finalists should get back into the championships, but that is a personal view.
*The top counties must face each other more often.
What fall-out will there be from those design specifications then?
*There will be the normal four provincial championships with the following number of teams in each: Connacht - 1 group of 4 teams; Munster - 1 group of 4 teams; Ulster - 2 groups of 4 teams each and Leinster - 2 groups of 4 teams each.
*They play each other in a round-robin with the top two in the final. It should be noted that the first group game each year will always be the provincial final of the year previous. The team that tops the group gets home venue for the provincial final EVERY year.
*Ulster and Leinster will have semi-finals (they have two groups) and both the winners and runners-up get through to the business end of the provincial championships. Their final will be in Croke Park, Clones/Casement Park as appropriate
So, 24 teams only in the All-Ireland senior football championship. Personally, I would have preferred just four teams in each province (a total of 16 for All-Ireland championships) but the imbalance in Ulster and Leinster would mean too many counties would drop down to the All-Ireland Junior championship
*The All-Ireland quarter finals will be preceded by the 'Play-offs' where the losing provincial finalists (4) and the losing semi-finalists from Ulster and Leinster (4) play off to provide the four entrants to the All-Ireland quarter finals. This may be the weak point, others feel it is fine. But if you don't abolish the quarters, this is the type of series you end up with. It's called politics and finance!
*With 24 teams in senior, we will have an All-Ireland Junior championship of 8+ teams. The winner of this championship 'goes senior' the following year and replaces the bottom team in their respective province. The Junior championship is straight knockout with the final as a curtain raiser to a senior semi-final
How to figure out the 'top' 4 teams in each province for the inaugural championship is pretty straightforward. Using the next three leagues as a guide (it could be just the 2016 league if there is a requirement to have the proposal in quickly!) we note:
*Each year there are 32 (+) teams in NFLs and at the conclusion of regular leagues (before Divisional Semi Finals and Finals) each team can be simply placed 1 to 32
*Your final placing in NFL = same number of pts as your position. (3rd Place = 3 pts and 17th Place = 17 pts)
*Add your 2016, 2017 and 2018 points and divide by 3 to get your Performance Index (PI) to establish your county's initial ranking. The lower the PI the higher your ranking and if counties are tied, your position in the 2018 league applies.
An example, taking Meath as the county in question, might be: 2016: 4th in Div 2 (12th overall); 2017: 2nd in Div 2 (10th overall) and 2018: 6th in Div 1 (6th overall) which leads to 12pts + 10pts + 6pts = 28pts. So, your PI = 28/3 = 9.333.
We only need to do the PIs once. Easy enough so far then? Hopefully, but a quick summary of the benefits will include
*A two-tiered structure that is realistic and provides more attractive games.
*A proposal that, overall, sees an increase in the number of games.
*It brings the games to the people with all teams on the road and all teams guaranteed at least one championship game at home EVERY year.
*The fixtures schedule is much easier to tidy up. We designed a calendar to accompany this proposal and as far as we can see it should work, leading to more weekends for club football.
There are many other small details that a column such as this cannot delve into but put it this way: it's the best new proposal I've seen today.
Do you agree?