EXPLAINER: New look GAA Championship: All you need to know about the Split Season'

John Harrington


John Harrington

EXPLAINER: New look GAA Championship: All you need to know about the Split Season'

EXPLAINER: New look GAA Championship: All you need to know about the Split Season'

The GAA’s Fixtures Task Force has recommended the Association adopt a ‘split season’ model for its playing calendar.

The practicalities of this model will now be put to counties as part of a consultation process ahead of Annual Congress 2021 next April.

If the ‘split season’ model is accepted during the consultation process, then a motion will be brought to annual GAA 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, which falls from July 18 to July 24 in 2022.

These proposals are as follows:
Football Championship Option 1 – 8 Team Provincial Football Championships
The first football Championship option outlined in the original Calendar Review Task Force Report, envisaged a provincial structure that has as its starting point 8 teams in each province.
The question of how to “re-balance” the Provinces was left open in the original Report. The Task Force are recommending that the two options below are discussed as part of the consultation process:
Option 1 – Bottom 3 seeded teams in Leinster and bottom 1 from Ulster to move to Connacht/Munster (seedings to be based on finishing Allianz League positions)
Option 2 – A Preliminary Round is introduced in the Leinster and Ulster Championships

Leinster – bottom 6 teams per Allianz League finishing positions play against each other in a preliminary Round of the Leinster Championship - the 3 winners continue in the Leinster Championship; the 3 losers are drawn to Munster (2 teams) and Connacht (1 team)

Ulster – bottom 2 teams per Allianz League seedings play off against each other in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship. The winners continue in the Ulster Championship; the losing team participates in the Round Robin Connacht Championship

The other key features of this proposal are:
The national football league would retain its current timing and structure. Finishing positions could be used to determine seedings in the Provincial Championships.

Each provincial championship would consist of 8 teams
* Each province to have two groups of four teams, who would be seeded from the National league and who would play each other in a round robin system guaranteeing a minimum of three group stage games for all teams.
* The winner of each group would progress to the relevant Provincial final, the 2nd and 3rd placed teams (16 in total) would progress to the qualifiers,
* The fourth placed team in each group would participate in a knock-out Tailteann Cup (if they are a Division 3 or 4 team only)

The structure of the All Ireland Qualifiers would be:
Qualifiers Rd 1 – 2nd placed teams v 3rd placed teams (8 games)
Qualifiers Rd 2 – Winners of Round 1 drawn against each other
Qualifiers Rd 3 – Beaten Provincial Finalists v Rd 2 Winners
All Ireland Quarter Finals – Provincial Champions v Rd 3 Winners.
A final change to the original report is that New York would play in the Tailteann Cup under this proposal.

Football Championship Option 2 – League structure for Championship
The second new option for the Football Championships would see the repositioning of the National Football League to the Summer months as a basis for the football Championship while playing Provincial Competitions in the February/March period.
The changes suggested for the All Ireland Championships are:
The 5th placed team in Division 1 rather than the 4th placed team in Division 2 would qualify for the preliminary All Ireland Quarter Finals (Sam Maguire Cup).
Reasoning: To ensure greater reward for teams who have qualified for Division 1 on merit
The Tailteann Cup would be expanded to include all Division 3 and 4 teams, with the exception of the top placed teams in Division 3 and 4 (who automatically qualify for the preliminary quarter finals of the Sam Maguire championship)
* This requires the addition of preliminary quarter finals in the Tailteann Cup.
Reasoning: To ensure all Division 3 and 4 teams (except the Division winners) get a chance to participate in the Tailteann Cup
The top team only in Division 3 will be promoted automatically to Division 2 for the following year along with the Tailteann Cup Winners (presuming they are a Division 3 team). If a Division 4 team wins the Tailteann Cup, the 2nd placed team in Division 3 will be the team promoted to Division 2 for the following year.
The bottom two teams in Division 3 will be relegated (Exception: if one of the bottom two teams wins the Tailteann Cup; in those circumstances, the team that finished 3rd from bottom will be the relegated team)
The top team in Division 4 will be promoted automatically to Division 3. The 2nd placed team will also be promoted (Exception: if a Division 4 team other than the top two wins the Tailteann Cup, they will be promoted to Division 3 along with the Division 4 winners)
Reasoning: To ensure greater reward for Division 3 or 4 teams in winning the Tailteann Cup

In the Provincial Competitions in February and March, the following changes are suggested:
Leinster Championship to consist of 1 x Round Robin group of 6, 1 x Round Robin group of 5
Ulster Championship to consist of 1 x Round Robin group of 5, 1 x Round Robin group of 4
Reasoning: Avoids having to allocate teams to a different province; does not impact on the time needed to play these competitions.

The Tailteann Cup option under this proposal has also been updated:
To consist of 15 teams (New York and all Division 3 and 4 teams except the division winners)
To be played on a knockout basis
Preliminary quarter-finals (7 games plus 1 bye), quarter-finals, semi-finals and final
If a Division 3 team, outside of the two automatically promoted teams, wins the Tailteann Cup they will be promoted to Division 2 for the following year; the team 3rd from bottom in Division 2 would be relegated in such a scenario.


So why is the GAA’s Fixtures Task Force recommending a ‘split season’ model, and what format would it take?

As to the why, Uachtarán CLG John Horan re-convened the Task Force in August 2020 and asked it to consider and make recommendations on a split season model. He did this because there was such a positive reaction to how the Covid-19 pandemic effectively meant the Association had to adopt separate timeframes for Club and Inter County competitions this year, in effect a ‘split season’.

The reaction among players, clubs and the membership in general was very positive for many reasons. 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.

If that’s the ‘why’ of a split-season, then what about the ‘how’?

Firstly, the Fixtures Task Force is recommending that inter-county matches will take place in the first half of a ‘split season’ with club championships taking place in the second half.

This is because 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.

Also, it was felt that non-championship club competitions would be unlikely to thrive once club teams exited their respective championships. Whereas, by playing the inter county season first, there would be an opportunity for league or non-championship club games to be played in late spring and early summer.

​Following feedback received as part of the Workshop held at Congress in February 2020, the Task Force hace also made some small changes to its original proposals on ​on the two main options for how the All-Ireland SFC might be restructured.