What’s wrong with the Senior Football Championship?
Vincents’ All-Ireland campaign has just ended and, alas, the Senior Championship draw is upon us once again. However, for the most part, nobody will be getting too excited.
With exception of the draw which pits Oliver Plunkett’s/ER against Ballyboden St. Enda’s, there’s not a single clash which will send too many neutral hearts racing.
A look at the draw will tell us that there are two or three fundamental flaws in the current senior championship structure. The first is the seeding system, which frankly, though partially achieving its goal, is thoroughly basic.
While the prospect of Boden and Plunkett’s/ER gives us something to get excited about in an otherwise humdrum opening round, it does in fact, allude to the thoroughly facile nature of the seeding structure.
Plunkett’s/ER reached the 2014 final and lost by a point to the All-Ireland champions, St Vincent’s. In 2015, they were beaten in the quarters by a point by Ballyboden, who went on to win the All-Ireland. Last year, the up and coming side, Castleknock, beat them in the first round and went on to the final.
Now, Plunketts/ER who have statistically been a top four side over the last three years, find themselves outside the first 16 in the seeding structure, and will face a side in the first round who will have won the All-Ireland just over a year ago.
With one of these two set to exit at the first stage, the cycle is guaranteed to continue into 2018, where any fair minded person will only hope that the losers will avoid one of the top eight in the draw.
While this draw gives us something to get excited about, in an otherwise unnoteworthy first round, surely the whole point of seeding is to avoid this type of thing.
A slightly more complex seeding structure, akin to how FIFA structure seedings, would seem to make a lot more sense. Or something like the international tennis circuit. If a top seeded tennis player loses the first round, the player who beat them earns a seeded draw for that competition and rises significantly for the next, but the originally seeded player doesn’t plummet into the bottom half of the seedings off the back of one result.
A system whereby weight would be given to championship matches over the last three years, would surely make more sense. A simple system whereby every match/round won would be worth a point, would have Plunkett’s where they belong, in the seeded side of the draw.
Or perhaps where each match/round won in the previous year would be worth a point, each from two years previously worth three quarters, and each from four years previously worth a half. Anything would seem to make more sense than the current facile structure.
Worse still, is the fact that, with the leagues having become a mere farce, and serious championship contenders no more interested in winning the cup than the man on the moon, the season of one of these sides will essentially be over before May. If that happens to be Plunkett’s/ER, it will be their second year in a row, a catastrophe for all involved.
As it happens, it’s not the first time that Plunkett’s/ER have suffered this fate. A shock defeat in the first round to Balinteer St. John’s, they found themselves unseeded in 2014, despite having been in the final a couple of years earlier. They drew Croke’s in the first round, but beat them. Croke’s season was essentially over before May. They didn’t even win the cup they’d have been good enough to win at a canter, such was their level of interest.
For some God unknown reason, the county board have decided to run the second round in May this year, meaning that only eight out of 32 sides will be seriously involved for the rest of the year, just eighteen weeks into the season! The value of reducing a round of championship to be played in Autumn seems to have been given no proportionate balance to the overall well-being of club football.
Then in 2015 Croke’s were unseeded. Fortunately, they avoided any of the top eight in the draw. The up and coming Casteknock, however, bucked the trend in 2016, and brought us back to this once again. Plunkett’s have only lost to sides who’ve won the championship or gone onto the final in three years, yet they’re unseeded!
In fact, the whole thing alludes to a bigger issue/question. Does a 32 team Senior Championship really make sense any more, when really there are only seven or eight realistic contenders, and the gap between the top eight and bottom eight, if not sixteen, is enormous?
Looking at the first round draw, we can be virtually guaranteed two absolute hidings, and there’s a pretty good chance we’ll be looking at another three or four.
So sixteen sides will have to lose a round before entering what many openly refer to as a “losers championship”. Close to half of these sides will know in their heart and soul before they take the field for the opening round of the Senior Championship, that they have almost no chance of beating the side they face.
One or two sides will have no interest in playing in the cup when they lose, devaluing the integrity of the whole thing.
Would it not make more sense to follow suit of the hurling structure and make a Senior A and Senior B championship, with 16 sides in each? Then the second tier sides could look to win a real championship, the Senior B championship, and we’d be guaranteed to have the best 16 in the last sixteen/senior championship.
Furthermore, if an efficient seeding structure was put in place, this would guarantee that we’d be left with the best eight sides in the county in the quarter finals, something which hasn’t happened in quite some time.
At its worst, in 2015, the current structure saw six of the top eight sides in the same side of the draw, and none in one quadrant and Clontarf, reached the semi-final without beating a single Division 1 side. They were beaten by 0-15 to 0-3 by St. Jude’s in the last 16 last year.
An efficiently seeded Senior A and B championship structure would give us two good championships and a first round of a Senior A Championship worth getting excited about.
Yes, the big question! How do you separate the Senior A and B championship. For the 2018 Senior Championship, you could run eight groups of four based on an efficient and fair seeding system to give a first, second, third and fourth seed. The top two from each group would advance, and make up the Senior A Championship for the following year. The bottom two in each group would be eliminated (they could still play a cup) and make up the Senior B championship for the following year.
Yes, there’d be a bit of pain. In an already clogged calendar, you’d be adding two games next year. Though, as once off, you could cut this to one by only the top side from each group advancing straight to the quarter final.
And if the calender could cope with the extra game, based on the 2018 trial, you could run the 2019 Senior A and B Championships on a group basis of four groups of four in each.
With just one game more than at present, we could be absolutely guaranteed to get the top eight in the county in the senior quarters and the top four in the semis.
And more importantly, with the interests of the club players in mind, something long forgotten by Croke Park, we could guarantee three meaningful championship matches per year per team.
Furthermore, we could get the best of both worlds. As is the case with hurling, we could begin the championship before May, but be guaranteed that nobody would suffer the fate that Boden or Plunkett’s will this year, eliminated in April, left only the indignity of turning up for games for the next seven or eight months, they’ll have no interest in playing!
Anything would be better than one of the county’s top sides’ season being effectively finished in May.
By Stephen O’Meara