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new era All you need to know about the new format for the GAA football championship

Advent of Tailteann Cup to modify the season before it goes through another alteration again for 2023

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Tyrone captain Pádraig Hampsey lifts the Sam Maguire following his team's win over Mayo last September. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Tyrone captain Pádraig Hampsey lifts the Sam Maguire following his team's win over Mayo last September. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Tyrone captain Pádraig Hampsey lifts the Sam Maguire following his team's win over Mayo last September. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

All changed, changed utterly, but what kind of beauty will be born? The football championship is experiencing another change in the coming weeks with the advent of the Tailteann Cup, but the new format will last just one season before further changes are applied.

The level of change may seem straightforward for some, but not necessarily for all. So we’ve set out a series of basic questions and answers around the 2022 and 2023 championships that may help to simplify any confusion.

What’s the basis of the 2022 championship?

It is still largely running along familiar lines. The provincial championship will be as normal with London and New York restored to Connacht after missing out in the two ‘Covid’ championships. Incorporating qualifiers (Sam Maguire) and Tailteann Cup, the football championship will run from next Saturday, April 16 to Sunday, July 24, the first full initiation of the ‘split season’ that is seeing inter-county activity run uninterrupted through the first half of the year, giving much more exclusive time for clubs at the back end.

A football championship starting in mid April and running for 15 weekends, 26 weeks in all for an inter-county season, is a sharp compression.

How are the qualifiers and Tailteann Cup being integrated this year?

Again, along the same lines as previously, but already a distinction has been made on 2022 league outcomes. Division 1 and 2 teams beaten before the provincial finals will enter Sam Maguire qualifiers; Division 3 and 4 teams beaten before provincial finals will be Tailteann Cup teams. If a Division 3 or 4 team reaches a provincial final they will keep a Sam Maguire path for the year, either as All-Ireland quarter-finalists (provincial winners) or rerouted to All-Ireland second round qualifier /last 12 as beaten provincial finalists.

How many Sam Maguire qualifying rounds are there?

Two but possibly a third, a preliminary round if a Division 3 or 4 team or teams reaches a provincial final. In that scenario, there will be a preliminary round or rounds between Division 1 or 2 teams to bring the number of qualifiers down to eight for the first round proper where there would be four games.

Preliminary round teams would not be drawn from beaten provincial semi-finalists. The winners of those four Round 1 games would then play the losing provincial finalists in Round 2/last 12 with winners there (four) advancing to the All-Ireland quarter-finals to play the provincial champions.

If we were to apply provincial championship results on the basis of recent league results or the higher-placed league finish if the teams drew or didn’t meet, then the first round qualifiers would be drawn between first round/quarter-final provincial losers Galway, Armagh, Limerick, Derry and Louth and provincial semi-final losers Cork, Meath and Monaghan. As the Leinster semi-final draw isn’t yet known, Dublin and Kildare, as outgoing Division 1 teams, are projected for a Leinster final, putting Meath into first round qualifiers.

Longford, Tipperary, Sligo, London and Cavan, projected to reach provincial semi-finals on this criteria, would revert to Tailteann Cup first round.

So reach a provincial final and you stay a Sam Maguire team, no matter what division you are in?

Yes, a carrot for provincial championship progress, a place in the ‘last 12’ as before.

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And the Super 8s?

Gone!

How many Tailteann Cup rounds are there?

Four but possibly a fifth, if no Division 3 or 4 team reaches a provincial final. In that scenario, there would be 17 competing teams, including New York, for the first time, who receive a bye to the Tailteann Cup quarter-finals. A preliminary round would reduce the numbers to 14 plus New York with those 14 playing off against each other, on a geographical basis (north and south) in a first round, the seven winners joining New York in Tailteann Cup quarter-finals where again geography (north and south) would come into play for the draw.

Does the Tailteann Cup have a chance?

The GAA’s big play is to fix the semi-finals in isolation on Sunday, June 19. No major games will take place in opposition, with All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals on the evening before. The likely venue is Croke Park, with TV coverage giving them added prestige. The final won’t enjoy the same billing, thoug,h as it is a Saturday evening fixture two weeks earlier than an All-Ireland final.

Why not play it on the same day as the All-Ireland final?

To release as many players back to their clubs earlier. Ticket demand could also be an issue. In time, that may change.

Some counties will be finished up early?

If there are Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cup preliminary rounds, some teams will fall by May 21/22. Otherwise, the following week for Tailteann Cup first round losers and June 4/5 for Sam Maguire first round losers.

But it all changes again in 2023?

Yes, on a number of fronts. Firstly, from 60 games this year, there will be 99 in the 2023 championship, essentially in the same time-frame.

Why the big jump?

Because post-provincial championships, the Sam Maguire and Tailteann Cup competitions will divide into two 16-team competitions and from that, those 16 will sub-divide into four round-robin groups of four in both with three games in each, 48 games.

The winners of those groups will automatically qualify for Sam Maguire/Tailteann Cup quarter-finals. The second and third teams in each group will play off to join them in the last eight. Another extra eight games, designed to keep teams ‘alive’ for long enough to avoid dead rubbers.

How will the number of teams in each competition, 16, be arrived at?

The provincial champions and beaten finalists automatically qualify as Sam Maguire teams and will be seeded 1 and 2 in the round-robin groups. After that, the four highest-placed teams (not including the eight provincial finalists) in the 2023 league will be third seeds in the round-robin groups with the next three/four highest-placed league teams fourth seeds. The 2022 Tailteann Cup winners are also entitled to a place among the Sam Maguire 16 but may be among the eight provincial finalists or promoted from Division 3.

Does being a Division 2 team after the 2023 league guarantee Sam Maguire status after provincial championships?

In 2022, it does, not in 2023, however. The 2022 Tailteann Cup winners must be accommodated as must provincial finalists who could come from Division 3 or 4. If Cavan, Offaly and Tipperary, for instance, reached their 2023 provincial finals but weren’t the 2022 Tailteann Cup winners or had promotion to Division 2 in 2023, and the Tailteann Cup winners weren’t promoted either, that could see up to four Division 2 teams lose out on the Sam Maguire qualifier round robins, including the two promoted teams from Division 3. It’s a remote prospect but is possible.

And the 16 Tailteann Cup teams?

The remaining 16 teams, again seeded according to 2023 league outcomes, though New York will be given preliminary quarter-final status where they would join three third-placed teams playing four second-placed teams. One of the third-placed round robin teams would lose out under the set of criteria used to determine ties.

Are the provincial championships diminished by it all?

Timewise, yes, as they will be completed over five weekends. But with finalists being granted 1 and 2 seeded status in the Sam Maguire round robin, the incentive to push hard is there for all.

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