ANALYSIS: The flaw that proves Offaly's new football championship format is an utter shambles
The Offaly senior football championships began in late July with Edenderry the bolters with three early victories over champions Rhode, fellow title hopefuls Clara and Cappincur in the Senior A grade.
These early stages, however, have revealed a glaring flaw in the Offaly County Board's new football championship format which is being used in both the Senior A and Senior B grades this summer.
The so-called criss-cross format was passed by clubs last February.
The format has resulted in two partially seeded groups of four at Senior A level with one county finalist, one beaten semi-finalist, one beaten quarter-finalist and one of the relegation play-off winners or promoted teams in each of the groups.
The groups were then formed through a draw which saw Ferbane, Edenderry, Tullamore and Shamrocks placed in Group A and Rhode, Clara, Cappincur and Gracefield placed in Group B. The unusual format sees teams playing a guaranteed four games against all four teams in the opposite group.
For example, champions Rhode will not play any of the other teams drawn with them in Group B but will instead play Edenderry, Ferbane, Tullamore and Shamrocks during the round-robin phase. They've already lost to Edenderry and beaten Shamrocks.
At the end of this phase, the top team in each group will go straight into opposite semi-finals while their opponents will be decided by two quarter-finals. Those quarter-finals will be contested by the runners-up and third-placed teams in each group with the runners-up in Group A playing the third-placed team in Group A. Repeat fixtures are ruled out by virtue of the criss-cross system which will ensure those two teams did not meet in the round-robin phase. The second quarter-final will be formed in the same way from Group B.
The group winners already in a semi-final will also play the winning quarter-finalists from their own groups, also ensuring no repeat fixtures at that stage.
Keeping up so far?
It all sounds fair enough until you break down the permutations. Without casting aspersions on any of the teams involved, it's possible for one team to lose all four of their round-robin games and still make it to a quarter-final by virtue of score difference over another winless rival in the same group. This is made possible because those two teams will not meet at the round-robin phase.
The utter shambolic nature of the new system is revealed when you look at the flipside. A team in the opposing group could beat the two rivals above and even pick up another win or draw and still miss out on a quarter-final if they finish last in their group. This is again made possible by the criss-cross structure.
FINAL ROUND FIXTURES:
Shamrocks v Cappincur
Tullamore v Clara
Ferbane v Rhode
Edenderry v Gracefield
ABOVE: The state of play in the Offaly senior football championship with one round of games remaining
For example, if Shamrocks beat Cappincur in the final round, they will have had an extraordinary summer, picking up three wins and six points, but Ferbane, Edenderry and Tullamore win their final round ties, Shamrocks will not only miss out on a quarter-final, but worse still, will land themselves in a relegation play-off. Ferbane and Tullamore are also in danger if Shamrocks win and they both lose.
This is not about predicting any results and by all means, the games left will be competitive but the fact that this is a possibility makes a mockery of the championship. A team could win two or three games of a four-game round-robin phase and be left in a relegation match while another team could get beaten four times on the trot and take a quarter-final place.
To really put the nail in the coffin for the current system, it is possible for one group to utterly dominate the other and if the four teams in Group A were to win all of their individual matches against the four teams in Group B in a given year under this format, all four teams in Group A would be on eight points while all the teams in Group B would be on zero.
Nevertheless, one of those teams on zero would go straight into a semi-final as group winners, while the runners-up and third-placed teams, also on the grand total of zero points, would contest quarter-finals. An unbeaten team in the opposing group would be in a relegation play-off in that scenario.
Riddle us that one, Offaly GAA?
SEE BELOW - Offaly GAA's approved structure for the 2019 Senior A and Senior B football championships: