In the past few weeks Irish sport has been thrown into a cauldron of uncertainty due to the complete chaos caused by the coronavirus crisis. The GAA has already been affected by this with the indefinite postponement of the National league but now the question everyone will be asking is what will happen in the next few weeks with the coming All Ireland Championship. It looks almost certain that the games will not be able to be played until much later in the year and this raises questions about what format the tournament may take this year or whether it will even go ahead at all.
There have been various solutions proposed as to how to solve the problem of a delayed championship. One idea being put forward by certain counties is the idea of a 32 county straight knockout competition. This would eliminate the provincial ties and the qualifiers and effectively act as a festival of Gaelic Football which would go on for less than two months and only have 5 rounds of fixtures needed to be completed. This is certainly an intriguing prospect as if the championship continues to be delayed it will inevitably clash with club games and there will not be time to finish the series in the current format. This could be viewed as a one-off world cup like tournament before the introduction of the two-tier system and the return of provincial ties next year. The downsides of this system are that for some of the smaller counties a tough first round draw effectively spells their doom as there will be no back-door route to fall back on. However, the excitement of true win or go home championship football has been lacking since the qualifiers were introduced and the current crisis could be the perfect time to implement something which brings this excitement back to the All-Ireland. This could lead to some big upsets and some smaller teams going far in the tournament if they get favourable draws something which again has been somewhat lacking with the introduction of a points based super 8s system. If this idea is implemented well it could be the most efficient and most enjoyable way to see out the season.
Despite calls from across the board to end the current season there is of course the very real danger that both the league and championship may have to be voided outright. This would be a crushing blow for fans of Gaelic Football who will be longing for its return as soon as possible. If the championship is voided, it raises all sorts of new questions around the GAA world. The number one priority for the GAA must be to finish the season if it is physically possible. The doomsday scenario of the championship being cancelled outright may lead to serious revenue losses for the GAA and individual counties which may hit the organisation hard. If no games at any level can be played this will also be a nightmare for clubs up and down the country as they will lose out on all regular match day revenues and could seriously threaten the existence of small rural teams across the nation.
The dream scenario for most GAA fans is of course also the most unlikely one. They will be hoping desperately for the league to be finished and a regular championship season with an unchanged format to take place as soon as is possible. With the possibility that the corona virus will still affect us for the rest of 2020 in some way or another it is hard to imagine a normal 4 to 5-month championship cycle taking place by the end of this year. Along with the 32-county knockout tournament another idea that has been proposed is the removal of the qualifiers for this year and the 4 provincial title winners taking their place in the semi-finals. This would be a return to the original format prior to the introduction of the so-called back door system in 2001 and would be a welcome one for many fans across the country for a one-off campaign
A final idea has been to introduce the two-tier championship in a straight knockout tournament to see out this year. This could shorten the intercounty calendar even more as games from both tiers’ fixtures could be played on the same weekends making the length of the season even shorter. This has been criticized as unfair to teams who looked to be getting promoted from division 3 who will be forced into the tier 2 championship tournament due to the possibility of a void league season.
There is still much uncertainty regarding the playing and format of the all-Ireland championship series but one thing is for certain when the GAA does return it will be appreciated even more than it already was by the players and fans.