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what next? Questions to answer as countdown to the All-Ireland championship nears an end

Who would have imagined two years ago that the next three All-Ireland championships would begin in different seasons?

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Tyrone celebrate victory

Tyrone celebrate victory

Tyrone celebrate victory

The 2022 All-Ireland football championship begins in 43 days’ time.

No, that’s not a misprint.

On Easter Saturday, April 16 in Brewster Park, Enniskillen All-Ireland champions Tyrone put their provincial title on the line against Fermanagh.

On the same day the Leinster hurling championship begins with three round-robin games: Wexford v Galway; Dublin v Laois and Westmeath v Kilkenny.

Meanwhile, on Easter Sunday hurling fans in Munster have two cracking games to look forward to with a repeat of the All-Ireland final between Cork and Limerick in Pairc Ui Chaoimh as well as Waterford hosting Tipperary in Walsh Park.

Who would have imagined two years ago that the next three All-Ireland championships would begin in different seasons?

Obviously Covid-19 caused widespread disruption in 2020 and 2021. The 2020 championship began on October 24 in hurling and a week later in football.

Last year the football and hurling both got underway on June 26.

It will take the fans a while to adjust to an Easter start for the All-Ireland series, given that in 2019 and 2018 there was no inter-county action during the month of April. Instead it was devoted exclusively to club action.

The Covid-19 experience convinced the GAA it was possible to have a split season hence the Easter start and July finish to the All-Ireland series. The rest of the year will be devoted to club activity.

The jury is still out on the merits of this fundamental re-alignment of the calendar.

The GAA, however, has a habit of revisiting decisions once the law of unforeseen consequences kick in.

So, don’t be surprised if the decision to have no inter-county activity in August is not revisited.

At last weekend’s GAA Congress delegates overwhelming backed a proposal for a new look All-Ireland football championship in 2023.

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However, the 2022 series is new too, due to the introduction of the Tailteann Cup, which was delayed for two seasons due to Covid-19.

Essentially there are two parallel championships – the top 16 counties will participate in the Sam Maguire series, while the rest and New York will play in the new competition.

The big prize on offer for the first ever Tailteann Cup champions is a guaranteed place in next year’s new-look All-Ireland series.

The provincial championships will proceed as normal and the four provincial winners will advance to the All-Ireland quarter-finals

Only Division 1 and 2 teams (the two counties promoted from Division 3 at the end of this month – will be classified as Division 2 sides) together with any county from Division 3 or 4 (including New York) that has qualified for the provincial final will be eligible to play in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

A preliminary round will be played to reduce the number of teams to eight; following by a quarter-final round determined by open draw.

The four winners will meet the four provincial final losers, with the winners advancing to the All-Ireland quarter-finals where they will be drawn against the provincial winners who obviously don’t have to avail of the back door.

For the football buffs, the All-Ireland semi-final draw is the Connacht champions (or the team that beats them in the quarter-final ) v the Ulster champions (or the team that beats them); Leinster champions (or the team that beats them) v Munster champions (or the team that beats them)

All Division 3 (including the two counties relegated from Division 2) and Division 4 counties will compete in the Tailteann Cup.

However, as stated previously, any county from the lower division who contests their provincial final will play instead in the All-Ireland series.

New York will enter the Tailteann Cup at the quarter-final stage, unless of course they either reach the Connacht final or win it, which would leave them eligible to compete in the Sam Maguire series.

The Tailteann Cup will be played on a knock-out basis with Round 1 and the quarter-finals organised on a geographical northern and southern section basis.

The final is due to be played as a curtain raiser-to one of the Sam Maguire semi-finals.

In contrast, there is no change to the format of the hurling series, but the round-robin format last used in the Munster and Leinster championships in 2019 returns.

Roll on Easter.

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