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Cork and Tipperary were both relegated to Division 3 of the league last spring.
Cork and Tipperary were both relegated to Division 3 of the league last spring.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Breakdown of the GAA's two-tier football plan and why there could be debate over league standings

The debate will take place at the GAA’s Special Congress on 19 October.
Oct 2nd 2019, 5:15 PM 7,757 2

IF THE GAA’s new football championship structure is adopted at Special Congress later this month, a debate will then take place over what league placings will be used to determine the make up of the two tier system.

The GAA have today released the exact wording for the motion that will go before their delegates in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday 19 October.

The two-tier structure is envisaged to be based on the league status of counties with Division 1 and 2 teams competing for the Sam Maguire Cup and then the Division 3 and 4 sides involved in the new championship.

But a key debate has unfolded as to whether it is the placings at the start of the 2020 campaign or at the end of next spring should count? It’s a critical issue for those in Division 2 and 3. Cork and Tipperary were relegated from Division 2 earlier this year while Laois and Westmeath were promoted from Division 3.

westmeath-celebrate-with-the-cup-after-the-game Westmeath players celebrating after their Division 3 league final win over Laois in April. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The GAA’s Central Council is set to propose that the composition of the divisions at the start of the league next January will count for the placings in the 2020 championship.

In response the Tipperary county board have put forward a motion that argues the composition of the divisions should be based at the end of the 2020 league on the promotion and relegation outcomes.

It will be an important outcome if the football championship overhaul is passed in the first place.

Here’s how it is envisaged the All-Ireland SFC (Tier 1 – Sam Maguire Cup) would work:

  • Provincial championships – no change from current rule.

All-Ireland qualifiers

Counties participating:

  • Division 1 and 2 league counties, excluding the four provincial champions in the competition year.
  • Any Division 3/4 county that qualifies for a provincial final that year.
  • The previous year’s Tier 2 championship winners, if not already qualified for a league higher than Division 3. (Applies from year 2021).

Preliminary round

  • This round will reduce the number of teams to eight. It’s confined to counties not qualifying for provincial semi-finals that year. Byes are permitted where an uneven number of teams are involved.

Round 1

  • There will be four pairings with an open draw to determine them.

Round 2

  • An open draw with the four defeated provincial finalists will face the four winners from Round 1.

All-Ireland quarter-final stage

  • The current system will continue.

All-Ireland semi-final stage

  • The current system will continue.


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All-Ireland final

- Venues: Home advantage shall be used for the preliminary round and Round 1 games with the first team drawn having home advantage. The venues for Round 2 shall be determined by the CCCC (Central Competitions Control Committee).

the-dublin-team-celebrate-with-the-sam-maguire-cup Dublin players celebrating their Sam Maguire victory after the final replay against Kerry. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

And here is how  it is envisaged the All-Ireland SFC (Tier 2) would work:

Counties participating

  • All Division 3 and 4 league counties excluding those who reach a provincial final and the previous year’s Tier 2 championship winners (applicable from 2021).


  • Championship to be played on a knockout basis.
  • Round 1 and the quarter-finals to be organised on a geographical basis with northern and southern sections.
  • The CCCC shall decide on an annual basis which counties are included in each section.
  • The draws will be conducted by the CCCC.

Round 1

  • Where less than 16 teams are involved, byes shall apply. This round will be played to reduce the number of teams to eight.


  • This will feature the winners and any byes of Round 1. The winners of the four pairings qualify for the semi-finals.


  • An open draw for the two pairings here


Scheduling for Tiers 1 and 2

  • Qualifier games to be played on Saturday/Sunday dates as judged by the CCCC.
  • Schedule will avoid clashes with provincial championship schedules (including replays) and allow sufficient dates for club fixtures.
  • Dual counties will be considered and where feasible the same weekend will be avoided for their games.
  • Provincial runners-up will be allowed, where feasible, a 13-day gap between their provincial final and game in the All-Ireland qualifier series.
  • All games in each round of the All-Ireland qualifier series will be played over not more than two consecutive weekends, save for exceptional circumstances. 

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