GROUP-STAGE formats in divisional championships is the way forward, according to Cork GAA CEO Kevin O’Donovan.
The restructured county championships, in both football and hurling, which are heading into their third season in 2022, have been hailed a huge success by all involved – and O’Donovan believes this structure can be just as successful at divisional level.
At county level, eight of the nine championship grades have 12 teams (three groups of four) while there are 16 teams (four groups of four) in the Intermediate A Football Championship.
O’Donovan feels the revamp of the county championships is working well and divisions are eager to follow the template.
‘One thing that we are very clear on at county board level, we feel that we have established the principles of group-stage championships: a minimum of three championship games for each player, relegation, and tiered structures whereby teams don’t float in grades anymore – they are either fighting to win it or fighting to avoid relegation. We intend that those principles be extended to every player in Cork. We want to do that through the divisional model. That’s where your reform might come,’ O’Donovan told The Star Sport Podcast.
‘If you establish principles of games’ programmes and see can we root that through the existing structures rather than knocking the house down and building new ones. I already see divisions trying to bring in those structures, I see them trying to bring in relegation, I see them trying to bring in group stages and I see them trying to grade competitions to make them more competitive.
‘I would see a new future for divisions, keeping their history but with a degree of change like we brought to our own competitions to keep them vibrant.’
Both Carbery and Mid Cork will have new group-stage JAFC and JAHC formats this season.
‘For people like me they are much easier to run in terms of administration. You can set out a programme for the year and you are not waiting for a Sunday night to draw your backdoor games for the following weekend. Group stages are here to stay,’ O’Donovan said.
‘I'm a special fan of 12 (team group stages), it’s completely cut-throat and that’s good for any team going out on the field to play. It’s about getting as close to knock-out as we can while keeping the principle of regular, meaningful games.’
The unevenness in the divisions is also a major challenge, O’Donovan explained, highlighting how the Carbery JAFC currently has a bloated 21 teams whereas there is only one Junior A team in the Beara division, Urhan.
O’Donovan feels the new Premier Junior football championship, which begins in 2023, will help, as it removes the pressure of Munster Council deadlines for divisional championships. Instead, from next year, the winner of the new Premier Junior football grade will represent Cork in the Munster club series.