blunder | 

GAA chiefs have made a big mistake with new All-Ireland championship rules

The game changers will be regretting their new rules come next spring

Stock image. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Sean McGoldrickSunday World

IN the unlikely event of me ever writing an autobiography I think I will call it ‘The Law of Unintended Consequences’.

I have long lost count of the dozens of articles I have written about how ill-thought-out decisions made during GAA Congresses later unravelled because delegates didn’t bother to tease out the full consequences of their votes.

The Law Of Unintended Consequences has been the bear-bug of the GAA for decades. Yet they still blunder on.

The fall-out from the decision at the last Congress to revamp the All-Ireland championship has yet to be felt.

However, last weekend’s provincial championship draw gave us a flavour of what to expect next April. I doubt if it has dawned on players – and most definitely hasn’t on spectators – how the changes will impact on their team.

But the Connacht draw which pitted big guns Galway, Mayo and Roscommon on the same side, which means that only one of them can feature in the Connacht final and qualify for the All-Ireland via the provincial championship route, was the first significant fly in the ointment.

The draw heaps pressure on Galway boss Padraic Joyce, new Mayo manager Kevin McStay and the yet-to-be appointed Roscommon manager, because all three will want to avoid relegation from Division 1 next spring.

Why? Because if they are relegated from the top-flight they will almost certainly be the fourth seeds in the Sam Maguire round-robin series.

In the new-look All-Ireland series next summer, there will be four groups, each containing four counties who will face each other in a series of round-robin games.

Granted, even though this phase of the competition involves 24 games, only four teams (one from each group) will be eliminated.

But on the law of averages there will be at least one group of death – particularly if Mayo or Galway are relegated.

Take this scenario for example: Kerry win the Munster title and are the number one seeds; last year’s All-Ireland champions Tyrone qualify as second seeds after losing the Ulster final, the third seeds are likely to be a Division 1 team such as Armagh with Mayo, if they were relegated, being the fourth seeds.

When a GAA Committee drew up the plan after a motion to sever the link between the provincial series and the All-Ireland fell short of getting the 60% majority it needed, it was envisaged the Sam Maguire championship would be contested by the 16 top-ranked teams.

Essentially this meant the teams in Division 1 and 2 of the Allianz league at the end of the 2023 competition.

However, as a sweetener for the new Tailteann Cup, it was decided that the winners would be guaranteed a place in the Sam Maguire series.

Right now Westmeath, who will play in Division 3 this spring, are the only county guaranteed a place in the 2023 tier one Sam Maguire series.

The downside of this sweetener is that the county beaten in the Division 3 final misses out on a place in the Sam Maguire championship.

But the fact that one of Sligo, Leitrim, London and New York – who don’t even field a team in the Allianz League – are now guaranteed a place in the Sam Maguire series, means the Division 3 winners will now be excluded as well.

Only in the event of Westmeath reaching the Leinster final and qualifying as second seeds will a place become available for the Division 3 winners.

The nightmare scenario for the GAA is if another Division 3 county qualified for a provincial final next year. Granted the odds are against it but in the past Down have come from nowhere to make the provincial decider.

So, if Down were to defy the odds and reach the final, the upshot would be that the county which finishes sixth in Division 2 would miss out on the Sam Maguire series.

Already the rumbling of discontent have begun. Cavan, another Division 3 side, could beat Armagh -assuming they beat Antrim in the preliminary round tie – and still miss out on the Sam Maguire series unless they win the provincial semi-final.

Meanwhile, in the other half of the Ulster draw, Fermanagh could shock defending champions Derry in the first round but still miss out on a place in the Sam Maguire series unless they also account for the winners of the Tyrone v Monaghan tie.

Even though a ball has yet to be kicked in anger one gets the distinct impression that the delegates who backed it so enthusiastically in the spring will be regretting their decision long before next summer is over.

Yet again the Law of Intended Consequences will come back to haunt the GAA’s lawmakers. They ought to be more careful in the future.

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