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Sam plan All you need to know about new All-Ireland football Championship plan

It will be only the third structured change in the Championship in modern times after the back-door system in 2000 and the Super 8s in 2018.


Former GAA president John Horan had advocated for change

Former GAA president John Horan had advocated for change

Former GAA president John Horan had advocated for change

Delegates at next weekend’s GAA Congress in Mayo are expected to endorse a new format for the All-Ireland football championship to be introduced in 2023.

It will be only the third structured change in the Championship in modern times after the back-door system in 2000 and the Super 8s in 2018. In this feature we answer all the questions about how the new format works, as well as the pros and cons of the system.

What is being proposed?

A new format for the All-Ireland Football Championship from next year which links league placings to the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time.

The provincial winners and runners-up are guaranteed a place in the premier competition, together with the eight top-rated teams in the Allianz League that do not qualify via the provincial series.

The two counties promoted from Division 2 next spring will be rated 7th and 8th respectively, with the two relegated counties rated 9th and 10th.

The winners of the previous year's Tailteann Cup will also qualify automatically, leaving one fewer place for the league qualifiers - unless the Tailteann Cup winners qualify automatically via the provincial series.

The 16 counties which qualify for the All-Ireland series will be divided into groups of four.

The provincial winners will be seeded one; the runners-up seeded two; the top four qualifiers from the Allianz League will be seeded three; the Tailteann Cup winners and the other three remaining league qualifiers seeded four.

All will play three games in their respective groups. The four group winners advance directly to the All-Ireland quarter-finals, with the second- and third-placed sides meeting in preliminary quarter-finals.

The counties not involved in the Sam Maguire series will compete in the second-tier Tailteann Cup, which begins this summer.

Who has suggested these changes?

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A special committee, which included GAA President Larry McCarthy and Director-General Tom Ryan, and four Provincial Council vice-chairs.

It was established after a more radical proposal failed to secure the 60 per cent vote required at a Special Congress last October.

Who came up with the radical plan, and why was it rejected?

Now that's a convoluted story, but here goes. A GAA Fixtures Calendar Review Taskforce, established by former GAA President John Horan, came up with alternative proposals for reforming the All-Ireland series.

One involved certain counties being moved out of their traditional province to create an equal number (8) of counties in each province. It failed to gain any traction.

The second, which became known as Proposal B, suggested flipping the season with the provincial championships being played as stand-alone tournaments at the start of the year and the Allianz League serving as the qualifier for the All-Ireland series.

The Provincial Councils and the more successful football counties such as Kerry, Dublin, Mayo and Galway were against the plan.

The GPA urged counties to accept Proposal B, while, at the 11th hour, the GAA President and Director General gave it a decidedly watery endorsement as well.

Though it did receive support from just over 50 per cent of the delegates at the GAA Congress, it fell short of the required 60 per cent majority.

Ok, I understand but how come we're discussing a completely different proposal now?

It's a good question that essentially boils down to GAA politics.

The provincial councils wield considerable power in the GAA.

They were not going to stand by and allow their senior championships, which are their cash cow, be decoupled from the All-Ireland series and effectively become a pre-season tournament.

The presence of four representatives of the Provincial Councils on the new committee was indicative of what was afoot.

Of course, they couldn't ignore the obvious mood for change.

And so they had to come up with a reform package which would maintain the link between the provincial championships and the All-Ireland series.

So, they dusted down a plan put together back in 2012 by former GAA President Sean Kelly, called it the Green Plan and re-named Proposal B the Red Plan.

Guess what? The GAA's Central Council opted for the Green Plan which will now be debated at next Saturday's GAA Congress in the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence near Knock.

Leaving the politics aside, what are the merits of the Green Plan?

Well, for the first time in the history of the All-Ireland series there will be a link between performances in the Allianz League and qualification for the All-Ireland series.


The Green Plan was originally Sean Kelly's idea back in 2012

The Green Plan was originally Sean Kelly's idea back in 2012

The Green Plan was originally Sean Kelly's idea back in 2012

The round-robin series of matches in both the Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cup will give teams additional games in the summer against teams at their level.

A county will have to play a minimum of eight games to win Sam and a maximum of 11.

And the disadvantages?

Where do I start? Fundamentally the plan is flawed because it maintains the link between the provincial series - which is hopelessly lop-sided in two provinces - and the All-Ireland Championship.

It turns the All-Ireland Championship into the most convoluted team competition in world sport.

Basically, the race for Sam will become a round-robin (Allianz League)/knock-out (provincial series), round-robin (All-Ireland series)/ knock out (latter stages of championship) to be played over 26 weeks.

The ill-fated Super 8's of 2018 and 2019 failed because of the large number of dead rubbers that it featured.

This time around a different issue will haunt the Green Plan.

In the round-robin phase of the All-Ireland series 24 games will be played to eliminate only four teams.

Any unintended consequences?

Even though this plan has been stitched together to save the provincial championships it could have the precisely the opposite effect.

Once this plan is properly up and running, the top seven rated teams at the end of the league (first six finishers in Division 1 and the Division 2 champions ) are guaranteed a place in the All-Ireland series regardless of how they fare in their respective provincial series.

Even though it would result in them being classified as third and fourth seeds in the round robin All-Ireland, they might sacrifice the provincial series to rest and focus on the race for Sam.

Will Congress back the green plan?

It is the first item on the agenda next Saturday and all the indications are that it will sail home.

It is then likely to be reviewed in 2025, if not before.

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