Forgive us if we’re not completely over the moon about what follows over the next four weeks. ‘A festival of football’ is how my colleague Micheál Quirke describes the Super 8, and indeed there is much to anticipate as the best face the best.
When GAA president John Horan speaks of a tiered Championship, this might be how he envisages it but with possibly more matches between the best. There’s a name for that already — Division 1 — but it is one of several concerns surrounding the inaugural All-Ireland quarter-final series.
<h2>Plus ça change</h2>
If ever there was an advertisement for the structure of the Allianz Leagues, the make-up of the Super 8 is it. There may be little between Division 2 and 4 but the difference between the top flight and the rest is startling. Had Mayo not been drawn against fellow Division 1 side Kildare and been paired with Armagh instead, it’s quite possible all eight teams in this year’s Division 1 would comprise the Super 8. At the same time, Roscommon will return to the spring’s best eight in 2019. Are the GAA trying to cod people effectively repeating the same system as that experienced earlier in the year?
<h2>Double-glazed glass ceiling</h2>
We have argued here before that the Super 8s is an attempt to introduce a tiered Championship by stealth. But in reality how covert is this process? The merits of tiers are obvious but expecting a Division 3 or 4 county to be competitive from the first round to the last Super game, a total of seven games in nine weekends, is more coercion than persuasion. There is no harsher way of telling them they are not good enough to mix it with the big boys.
<h2>In it for the money</h2>
The GAA has work to do if they are to make people believe additional games at the business end of the football championship are more about competition than finance. The Newbridge episode will have done nothing to dissuade people from that opinion. Last year, Meath manager Andy McEntee criticised the commercially-driven Super 8 and last week Laois boss John Sugrue queried what the Super 8 might lead to — i.e. a tiered Championship. “It’s consumerism and it’s people who just can’t tolerate seeing a one-sided game.”
<h2>What provincial reward?</h2>
Donegal might have been chancing their arm seeking a meeting with the GAA regarding Croke Park as ‘a neutral venue’. At the same time, they have plenty to be aggrieved about having had to win four games to claim their provincial title as opposed to the two won by Kerry and three by Dublin. It’s possible by the time they play their only home game against Tyrone on the August Bank Holiday that their race is run. Galway and Kerry must also wait for home comforts but Donegal have the rawest deal.
<h2>Croke Park is Dublin only</h2>
Dublin’s cosy Croke Park arrangement will surely be addressed at Congress next year where it should be inserted into rule that each of the eight teams can play just one quarter-final game in GAA HQ. Roscommon could yet protest on grounds of fairness that their final round game against Dublin should be played elsewhere. Kevin McStay has made the point about Parnell Park being a suitable home for Dublin given the GAA’s Newbridge decision and they would have a stronger case than Donegal, but this blatant advantage for the All-Ireland champions is likely to remain this season.
Jack Anderson and this column in this newspaper has highlighted the GAA’s disciplinary structures will never be as scrutinised as they will this year. The provincial hurling championships was the equivalent of a soft launch for them. Hurling doesn’t exercise the bodies as much as football — the number of bans handed out were minimal and nothing was issued retrospectively — and the short turnaround between the Super 8’s Rounds 1 and 2 will be difficult. At least there’s a two-week gap between Rounds 2 and 3 but the Central Hearings Committee and Central Appeals Committee better be on standby next week and the week between round three and the All-Ireland semi-finals.
</h2>Danger of dead rubbers</h2>
In defending the Super 8, ex-GAA director general Páraic Duffy said the chance of dead rubbers was reduced by the provincial champions playing against one another in round one. That is correct but there mightn’t be much at stake for one or two of the qualifier teams heading to provincial champions in Round 3. “Many of our counties are happy to play their club championships on this basis,” Duffy added. That is also correct but not at such a late juncture of the competition when the stakes are higher.
Kilkenny’s rough justice
Showing sympathy to Kilkenny is something Galway would be wary of in the wake of Fergal Moore’s three cheers for the Cats after an inaugural Leinster title in 2012. Almost three months later and it was Eoin Larkin expressing his condolences to Galway from the same Hogan Stand rostrum.
In fairness, Micheál Donoghue was probably thinking about the fate that could have befallen his own as much as any sympathy for Kilkenny when he spoke of the Cats’ one-week turnaround to next weekend’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick: “It is hard for any team to come out three weeks in a row. You think when the fixtures were made, was there any allowance made for a draw? In fairness, the GAA would have nothing without the players and the players are the most integral part of it.”
Legislating for a draw is a lot more difficult for the GAA’s fixture-makers in this new, almost straitjacketed Championship timeframe but then there were three weeks between the last round of the Leinster SHC and the provincial final.
Then again, the same situation would have faced the Munster losers had Clare and Cork to play again this past weekend and the GAA may have to consider removing replays from provincial finals. Cork’s footballers sure would have been happier in 2015 to play out the first day against Kerry in Killarney.
Kilkenny now must do what nine of the 10 teams failed to achieve during the provincial stages and win a third game in 14 or 15 days.
What’s more, it’s their second such sequence of the Championship. And they face a Limerick team who enjoyed an evening win against Carlow. Consider also the hot mid-afternoon conditions the Cats had to endure in Croke Park and Thurles and it would be a remarkable feat for them to make the last four. Remarkable but rough all the same.
Football needs its own identity in Cork
Reality: “The @OfficialCorkGAA footballers play a crucial qualifier game against Tyrone tomorrow at 5pm in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, and really need your support!” — Cork chairperson Tracey Kennedy tweeted last Friday.
Illusion: “We’ve no doubt the Rebels supporters will be out in numbers to support the Cork footballers in their quest for Championship glory this afternoon” — A post from the Chill Insurance official Twitter account last Saturday.
Ignorance or indifference, it was symptomatic of the malaise weighing on Cork football at the moment. Once bitten, twice shy, the county’s football followers weren’t going to travel to Portlaoise. The few who did, not counting friends and family of those involved, have been bitten twice so what does that make them? As we mentioned after the Munster final drubbing, it was a result that could reverberate for years in terms of backing at matches.
On the subject of backing, the reasons were obviously genuine but the fact Cairde Chorcaí, the fundraising group for Cork GAA teams, developed out of what was the Cork Senior Footballers Fund (CSF) might have been a lost opportunity for the bigger ball game. The CSF organisers were likely given assurances that uniting forces to incorporate the hurlers wouldn’t impinge on their objectives but they might have been better off ploughing their own furrow to ensure everything they raised went directly to a needier cause.
Like night follows day, the senior hurlers will require more financial aid especially as they will be in the Championship at least three weeks longer than the footballers, having already played two more games this summer. Football needs to be its own entity in Cork but there’s a great danger it will continue to drown because hurling isn’t so much their buoy as their anchor.
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