All-Ireland Championship

Proposals to re-vamp the All-Ireland Championships do nothing for the weaker counties

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There is currently a lot of debate about falling attendances, poor standards of play and “what to do” about the current All-Ireland championships. I have read the three main proposals on the table, i.e.

  • GAA Director General Paraic Duffy’s mini-National League
  • Colm Parkinson’s idea that lower tier teams should be cast aside in a separate competition

  • Conan Doherty’s proposal for ‘half a Champions League’ format

All three formats ignore the fact that lower tier teams can ONLY improve if they play top tier teams. All three formats deny lower tier teams a proper ‘home fixture’ schedule. And, all three proposals deny the lower tier teams a chance to develop their revenue streams.

The very idea that Congress is a barrier is rubbish because one half of congress = the 16 counties that year and year, decade after decade have only 2 games in the championship, i.e. beaten in the first round of their provincial championship + beaten in the first round of qualifiers.

To get Congress to pass these changes requires just 22 delegates, i.e. the 16 counties that rarely get more than 2 games per year + another 6 counties that rarely get more than 3 games. Thus, finding 22 county delegates to pass a motion at Congress is far from impossible – I would argue that it is highly likely.

  • Hurling: Only 8 counties have won an SHC in the past 50 years
    • 24 counties have not won a SHC title in 50 years
    • Kilkenny and Cork have won 33 SHC titles between them in the past 50 years
      • I believe at least 22 hurling counties will vote for change!
  • Football: Only 11 counties have won an SFC in the past 50 years
    • 21 counties have not won a SFC title in 50 years
    • Kerry and Dublin have 25 SFC titles between them in the past 50 years
      • I believe at least 22 football counties will vote for change!

The idea that provincial championships are sacred cows is also a fallacy! With Antrim and Galway now playing in Leinster,  that ship has long sailed. If the attendances at provincial championship matches is a measure of their worth, the GAA should listen to what the supporters are saying.

And, if the GAA asked the players what they really want – I am pretty sure the majority of them would say “a chance to play a top team at a top venue” and “a chance to take on a top team at home.” If the GAA bothered to ask anyone from the so-called weaker counties, they’d ALL say “fairer, more equal competitions.”

It simply is not fair to treat these counties like this, i.e. 2/3 championship games per year !

  • It is unfair to their players and coaches
  • It is unfair to their supporters
  • It is unfair to their sponsors and advertisers

Without more games + games against better opposition, weak counties STAY weak !

The GAA has a responsibility to develop their games and this = developing the weaker counties to create a more open, more entertaining championship. Pandering to the financial requirements of the top 4 counties at each code does not equate to development – it is a cowardly surrender of all that the GAA says it stands for !

If the GAA had any moral or ethical decency, it would put 4 proposals forward for Congress

  1. GAA Director General Paraic Duffy’s mini-National League
    1. keep the NL + provincial championships
    2. play a round “robin” of the Top 8 instead of QF knockout games
  2. Colm Parkinson’s proposal for A & B championships
    1. move the provincial c’ships to March
    2. move the national leagues to the summer
    3. move the All-Ireland series to the late autumn with A and B competions
  3. Conan Doherty’s proposal for ‘half a Champions League’ format
    1. get rid of the pre-season competitions: O’Byrne Cup, FBD League, etc.
    2. push the start of the league forward to January
    3. lose the Division One semi-final – top two go straight into the decider
    4. finish the league in March/early April
    5. run off a separate provincial series over four weeks
    6. new World Cup-style championship – eight groups, four teams, seeded
  4. Full Champions League format based on seedings from the National Leagues
    1. eight groups of four teams
    2. play home and away fixtures (6 games) over 12 weeks (alternating hurling/football weekends)
    3.  scores against bottom teams do not count for goal difference
    4. Top 8 go into Last 16 of “A” c’ship, with home advantage
    5. The 8 runners-up play away
    6. The 8 third-placed teams go into Last 16 of “B” c’ship, with home advantage
    7. The 8 bottom-placed teams play away
      1. The 16 weakest teams get to play at least 7 championship games
      2. The 16 weakest teams get at least 3 hurling + 3 football fixtures at HOME
      3. The 16 weakest county players and supporters get a schedule
      4. Their sponsors / advertisers get a schedule
      5. Their clubs and local businesses get 6 weekends to participate

Each format should be presented, discussed and debated.  

Each county should give its clubs and their club members a chance to vote.

Each county delegate votes in accordance with their county clubs/members’ wishes.

If anyone is interested, I have two previous articles that set out my thoughts on these changes :-

The Current Value of the Provincial Football Championships

The sponsorship divide at GAA county level can only be fixed via an open draw

How the GAA can help itself, local communities and Ireland

 

The Current Value of the Provincial Football Championships

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This weekend saw the semi-finals of the provincial championships in Gaelic Football played in front of mediocre attendances with one group of happy sponsors and another group of sponsors that were probably not as happy as they had hoped.

  • Many of the games were predictably one-sided affairs, with predictable scorelines
  • Westmeath    3-19      Meath           2-18
  • Dublin            5-18      Kildare          0-14
  • Donegal         1-9        Derry            0-10
  • Monaghan      1-20     Fermanagh   0-13

Last weekend, Cork and Kerry (deliberately kept apart in the Munster Championship draw) predictably eased past their opponents, Clare and Tipperary, respectively.

  • Yet another Cork v Kerry Munster Final – no surprises there either !
  • And yet another “sell out” crowd expected

Meanwhile, in Connacht, the two best teams in their provincial championship met in one semi-final (Mayo from NFL, Div. 1 predictably beat Galway) and in the weaker of the two semi-finals, Sligo (from the third tier of the NFL) caused a minor upset by beating Roscommon (from NFL, Div. 2).

  • But what does all of this mean?
  • Have we learned anything about the top teams?

Yes, and no !

  • Cork and Kerry will have played a competitive Munster Final
  • Donegal and Monaghan will have played in very competitive Ulster Championship
  • All four of these NFL, Div. 1 sides are genuine All-Ireland contenders
  • Mayo will probably emerge as provincial champions – for the 5th year in a row !
  • Dublin will probably emerge as provincial champions – also for the 5th year in a row !
  • Neither will have encountered a NFL, Division 1 side on their way
  • We simply will not know how good they are until they play a top tier team
    • Assuming they win their provincial championship, the All-ireland Quarter-Final will be their first genuinely competitive game
    • They will both be short of match practice compared to their opponents
    • Their opponents will have played a NFL Div. 1 side in the Championship
  • And, if their supporters are honest, they have no clue as to how competitive they will be
  • Joe Brolly thinks Dublin “are good to watch” but he hasn’t seen them play a Div. 1 side yet
Brolly: 'Dublin are a pleasure to watch' Following their easy win over Kildare, Joe Brolly was full of praise for Dublin's approach to the game.
Brolly: ‘Dublin are a pleasure to watch’ (RTE Sport/GAA, Sunday 28 June 2015)
Following their easy win over Kildare, Joe Brolly was full of praise for Dublin’s approach to the game.e.

If we were to analyse the National Football League tables and assign a value, we would perhaps be in a better position to judge how far apart the counties in the lower leagues are from the top tier. Now I know people always say … wait ’til the championship to see the real deal … but the provincial championships are, in my opinion ‘not fit for purpose’ anymore.

The fans know this, the sponsors know this and the GAA knows this.

If we ‘invert’ the finishing place in the NFL with a score out of 32, we see Cork with a score of  32, Dublin with a score of 31, Monaghan with a score of 30, etc. … right down to London (who finished 32nd) with a score of 1. Then multiply these scores by 10 to get a rating.

This gives us the following table.

National Football League, Div. 1
Rank County Rating
1 CORK 320
2 DUBLIN 310
3 MONAGHAN 300
4 DONEGAL 290
5 MAYO 280
6 KERRY 270
7 TYRONE 260
8 DERRY 250
National Football League, Div. 2
Rank County Rating
9 DOWN 240
10 ROSCOMMON 230
11 MEATH 220
12 GALWAY 210
13 CAVAN 200
14 LAOIS 190
15 WESTMEATH 180
16 KILDARE 170
National Football League, Div. 3
Rank County Rating
17 FERMANAGH 160
18 ARMAGH 150
19 TIPPERARY 140
20 SLIGO 130
21 CLARE 120
22 LIMERICK 110
23 LOUTH 100
24 WEXFORD 90
National Football League, Div. 4
Rank County Rating
25 LONGFORD 80
26 OFFALY 70
27 ANTRIM 60
28 LEITRIM 50
29 CARLOW 40
30 WATERFORD 30
31 WICKLOW 20
32 LONDON 10

If we sort this table by province, and average the ratings, we see which provincial championship is strongest … and by how much. The results are quite revealing.

Province Rank Football Rating
Ulster 212
Munster 165
Connacht 152
Leinster 134
In terms of a competitive provincial championship, we see Ulster quite far ahead due to the fact that most of their counties play in either NFL, Div. 1 or 2. Leinster is the least competitive because most play in NFL, Div. 3 or 4.
In terms of a competitive provincial championship, we see Ulster quite far ahead due to the fact that most of their counties play in either NFL, Div. 1 or 2. Leinster is the least competitive because most play in NFL, Div. 3 or 4.

I believe the only way to break this mould is to scrap the un-balanced provincial championships and run an All-Ireland Championships based on an open, seeded draw with 8 groups of 4 counties.

  • The seedings would be based on National Football League finishing places
  • The ‘Top 8’ in the NFL would be kept apart (like Cork and Kerry already are in Munster)
  • All teams are guaranteed a minimum of 7 games per summer
  • This will appeal to the fans, the sponsors and local businesses in all 32 counties
  • Playing 2 games against Div.1 side + 2 games against a Div. 2 side will benefit the Div. 3 & 4 sides
  • This is the only way Div. 3 & 4 squads will improve at ALL-Ireland Championship level
  • Playing on muddy pitches in front of small crowds in cold, wet weather in the NFL is not what players aspire to. They are, no doubt, proud to wear their county jersey no matter when or where they play, but they deserve more from the GAA.
    • Their fans deserve more
    • And their sponsors deserve more

And there are now more than enough TV channels to televise all of the games at all of the venues throughout May, June and July.

  • I’d also recommend playing the Junior and Intermediate competitions as a ‘curtain raiser’ for each senior game – these teams deserve an audience and the same venue on the same day as the SF teams.

Last week I read an article from a leading newspaper complaining that Wicklow football fans only got 6½ minutes of highlights on RTE and how unfair this was.

  • It did not reflect the 7 months of hard training put in by the Wicklow players and mentors
  • It seems crazy that after 1 game in Leinster and 1 qualifier, Wicklow’s season is over
  • It doesn’t give Wicklow GAA players, fans or sponsors much hope for the future
  • And, most importantly, it does little for the juvenile players

Other articles supporting the idea of an open, seeded draw for the All-Ireland Championships:


For those of you who are interested, I include my provincial ratings and how I calculated my average rating for each provincial championship. It makes grim reading for Dubs fans and illustrates how weak the Leinster Senior Football Championship really is.

  • Provincial finalists are shown in red text
    • Would it benefit Dublin and Mayo to lose their provincial finals and get a ‘competitive match’ before a potential quarter-final game?

Ulster SF Championship

Rank County Rating Province
3 MONAGHAN 300 U
4 DONEGAL 290 U
7 TYRONE 260 U
8 DERRY 250 U
9 DOWN 240 U
13 CAVAN 200 U
17 FERMANAGH 160 U
18 ARMAGH 150 U
27 ANTRIM   60 U
                                                    Average = 212

Munster SF Championship

Rank County Rating Province
1 CORK 320 M
6 KERRY 270 M
19 TIPPERARY 140 M
21 CLARE 120 M
22 LIMERICK 110 M
30 WATERFORD   30 M
                                                    Average = 165

Connacht SF Championship

Rank County Rating Province
5 MAYO 280 C
10 ROSCOMMON 230 C
12 GALWAY 210 C
20 SLIGO 130 C
28 LEITRIM   50 C
32 LONDON   10 C
                                                     Average = 152

Leinster SF Championship

Rank County Rating Province
2 DUBLIN 310 L
11 MEATH 220 L
14 LAOIS 190 L
15 WESTMEATH 180 L
16 KILDARE 170 L
23 LOUTH 100 L
24 WEXFORD   90 L
25 LONGFORD   80 L
26 OFFALY   70 L
29 CARLOW   40 L
31 WICKLOW   20 L
                                                    Average = 134