For the widespread criticism of the Super 8, a lot of it has been constructive. It might be on its last legs but there is no end of suggested treatments. If it is to remain a part of the championship beyond 2020, the neutral venue round has to mean neutral and that doesn’t have to be Croke Park.
At a Dublin-dominated TeamTalkMag pre-match event in Sally O’Brien’s in Omagh on Sunday, the support for Dublin being brought out of GAA HQ was considerable, surprisingly. The Dubs want more titles but they crave adventure too.
A two-week gap before All-Ireland semi-finals would also mean a county already qualified might look on those final round games as less of a hindrance. It makes little sense that counties have at least two weeks to prepare for provincial semi-finals, never mind provincial finals, yet have as little as a six-day turnaround to the All-Ireland semi-final.
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Just because it impacts on the two competing teams doesn’t make it any less unfair to the teams and the integrity of the competition itself. The likes of Tomás Ó Sé have refloated the idea of the first-round winners facing one another in the second round with the losers then taking on the winners of the teams who were beaten in that opening round.
That’s something Dublin CEO John Costello and Mickey Harte have spoken about before — the idea of rewarding provincial champions with a second bite of the cherry if required. For that to happen, the league format would have to be done away with as to retain it under that scheduling would confirm dead-rubbers.
The two teams which have won both their quarter-final games would progress to the All-Ireland semi-finals to be joined by teams that have lost one of their three quarter-final matches. Avoiding more non-events like Healy Park on Sunday at this time of the year must be the prime objective of any changes to the Super 8, although there is an inherent difficulty when a league format follows a knock-out process (provinces) and a secondary one (qualifiers).
In defending the Super 8, its creator, former GAA director-general Páraic Duffy said it was unrealistic to avoid dead rubbers in a non-knockout system.
“Critics seem to expect an ideal in the GAA that does not exist anywhere else — there is a risk of a dead-rubber game in every kind of round-robin format in every sport. In addition — and very importantly — the fact the two provincial champions in each of the groups play each other in the first game reduces the likelihood of meaningless games in Round 3.”
Of course, that last point is no longer the case as, from this season, the provincial winners face off in the second round. Irrespective, in 2018 the Dublin-Roscommon Round 3 game was a dead-rubber as were, to an extent, the final round fixtures for Galway at home to Monaghan and Kildare in Kerry as the former had qualified for the All-Ireland semi-finals and the latter were effectively out of the championship.
The bonus points system in rugby was introduced to help alleviate the issue of games being of no consequence and matches at the beginning of a competition being as relevant as those at the end. We have written before about how it would be a welcome addition to the Allianz Leagues and if the Super 8 is to last beyond next year it could be a lifesaver.
The details of how a bonus points system in Gaelic football — a variation of it could work for hurling’s provincial championships too — are up for debate but let’s base it loosely on a Champions Cup/Six Nations model — four points for a win, two for a draw, a bonus point for scoring two or more goals and a bonus point for losing by five points or less.
Going into the final round of Group 1, Donegal would be ahead of Kerry, 7pts to 6, courtesy of scoring two goals against Meath. In such a situation, Kerry would possibly not have had the luxury of David Clifford on the bench in Navan. Meath would still have been out of the picture but the extra permutations between Donegal, Kerry and Meath would have added to the excitement. Kerry would still have finished top on 11 points, Mayo nine and Donegal eight but then that wouldn’t reflect the actual incentive of going for goals and reducing deficits.
In last year’s Super 8, another goal for Kerry in losing to Galway or drawing with Monaghan would have sent them into the semi-finals ahead of Galway as a result of the then Connacht champions picking up no bonus points and Kerry three.
Not much would change in Group 2 this year but in 2019 Dublin’s final round game would not have been a dead rubber — both Tyrone and Donegal could catch them — as much as it was for Roscommon.
Some food for thought as the Super 8 lies on the operating table. If nothing is done, it will soon be on a mortician’s slab.