JOHN FOGARTY: Flawed ‘Super 8’ not the answer

Introducing more extra-time matches and freeing up September fits into Páraic Duffy’s long-standing agenda to make more space for club activity.

St Augustine's Dungarvan celebrate winning the Munster U18½ Corn Risteard Uí Mhathúna (Munster Colleges C ) final against Coláiste Treasa, Kanturk

At the launch of his annual report last month, GAA director general Páraic Duffy opened with a clarification about the recommendations to alter the All-Ireland senior football championship, cut down on summer replays and bring forward the All-Ireland senior finals to August.

“The first point I want to make is these are not my proposals. I brought a document to Coiste Bainistí (management committee), they decided to make these into a report and recommend them to Central Council. I don’t want to personalise it.” 

But have no doubt that this is personal for Duffy. The amount of time and effort he has invested into devising what he believes is a more attractive SFC package by replacing the All-Ireland quarter-finals with two round-robin groups has been significant. 

Introducing more extra-time matches and freeing up September fits into his long-standing agenda to make more space for club activity.

Never before has he sold his work so much. 

It may be argued that he has been charged by central council to embark on a nationwide blitz to brief counties on the merits of his amendment to the senior football championship structure but it looks and sounds like more of a campaign.

His appearance on RTÉ’s League Sunday two days ago was another opportunity to support his “Super 8” idea. 

He talked up the last eight teams each having a home game in the round-robin groups: “It would bring some of the so-called big counties down to the provinces. I think from a promotional point of view that would be a huge advantage for the Association.” 

As well as this, Kerry legend Mikey Sheehy was quoted on the official GAA website last week extolling the virtues of Duffy’s plan.

The irony of RTÉ’s segment on the proposals was that the panel asked to discuss was primarily made up of hurling personalities in Donal O’Grady and Brendan Cummins when hurling has been given scant consideration. 

Reducing replays and August All-Ireland finals may have been the recommendations of a document entitled “Proposal on a Revised Format of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship” but they — like the eight extra football games in July — most assuredly affect hurling.

What Duffy has shied away from arguing is the financial benefits of those additional fixtures. 

To be fair to him, he defended his plan against charges of it “making more money” for the GAA: “This is a lazy and cynical view, to which there is an obvious rebuttal: If this proposal had been made for reasons of financial gain, it would not seek to reduce the number of replays, nor propose that we play eight of the 12 group games outside Croke Park.” 

However, Duffy has spoken before about the irregularity of money-spinning replays and how they can’t be depended upon. 

Studies of the last 50 years have shown that only 38 of the last 400 provincial and All-Ireland finals have ended in draws.

In his annual report, he stated if the football championship remains unchanged “the problem of falling appeal will remain” (attendances are at their lowest ebb in the qualifier era). 

Appeal means interest as it does gate receipts — divorcing the two is impossible. By adding another eight games to the most lucrative part of the competition Duffy can’t deny money is high on the agenda. 

As a realist, Duffy has reflected that truth in amending the extra-time proposal too. Maintaining the facility of replays for provincial finals was done so as to ensure provinces weren’t adverse to losing their financial bonuses altogether.

For other reasons, Duffy has made his propositions more palatable. Revealing that the “Super 8” idea would come in on a three-year trial basis was a means of making the proposal acceptable to the undecided. 

Making the extra-time and All-Ireland final dates’ recommendations separate motions increases the chances of them being passed.

Duffy has also offered some reassurance to the Club Players Association (CPA) by confirming championship changes can be voted in at Congress next year should the “Super 8” be given the green light. But how likely is that when the “Super 8” won’t yet be seen in operation?

The CPA’s aim is true but they aren’t adverse to the odd bout of paranoia. 

One prominent figure of the group privately told one journalist it was not in the media’s interest to oppose Duffy’s blueprint because more games meant more work. 

If that truly was the case then why has there been a lukewarm response in the press to the “Super 8”?

If summer All-Ireland finals provide the gateway to a calendar year, the “Super 8” is a tiered championship by stealth. 

Connacht secretary John Prenty acknowledged that when speaking to this newspaper last November — “once this is bedded in, something can be done for the next two tiers.” 

A tiered competition is favoured by this column but not by putting All-Ireland semi-finals out of the reach of developing counties.

August All-Ireland deciders and more extra-time championship games are reasonable, but for a host of reasons from hurting dual counties to making All-Ireland success more difficult for Ulster champions to dead rubbers to ranking entertainment over equality to the ignorance of hurling the “Super 8” is a flawed concept. Nothing personal.

Email: john.fogarty@examiner.ie

Concerns for Cody as Cats lose fear factor Eoin Larkin’s blast at the younger members of the Kilkenny team on Sunday may have been less diplomatic than Paul Murphy’s comments last June but they came from the same place.

Responding to Ger Loughnane’s criticism of the depth of Brian Cody’s panel, Murphy used the opportunity to deliver a message to fellow squad members. 

“If I was a player on the Kilkenny panel and I haven’t started a championship match and people are saying the panel is weak and we’ve no-one on the bench I’d be disappointed in one of our players if they didn’t take that as an insult because people are effectively saying you’re not good enough or not as good enough as was there before, or not as good enough to play against Galways and Tipperarys and they’re relying on the boys who are starting.” 

It’s rare that Kilkenny players have required such cajoling. However, it’s a reality that Brian Cody’s hand has never been as poor as the one he now possesses. 

In Ennis, several of those who populated the substitutes list last year started but disappointed not to mention a household name in Richie Hogan and a couple of other mainstays. 

Kilkenny thrive on being written off and this column isn’t going to fall into that trap but losing so heavily to a work in progress, as Clare most certainly are, even in February, is a symptom of a deep malaise.

What was so disheartening in Cusack Park was how for the second week running they were second best in the majority of the physical exchanges.

Where was their pride? It’s not just games the Cats are losing but their fear factor too.

Five league lessons   

Tight times: Since Division 1A was introduced five years ago, only once have two teams claimed full points in the opening two rounds — Cork and Kilkenny in 2012.

Since then, there have been just three — Dublin in 2015, Waterford last season and Tipperary this year.

Penalty problems: Hurling 2020 committee chairman Liam Sheedy made the prediction that the goal conversion rate of one-on-one penalties would increase. This past weekend three were saved in Division 1A although two were scored in Salthill. The timing of the run before the 20m line remains a difficulty for takers.

Wexford wonders: In public, Davy Fitzgerald has played down Wexford’s promotion chances but what he’s been saying to his players behind closed doors is very different.

Barring a calamity next month, promotion is theirs.

Tipp toppers: All great sides develop an air of invincibility.

When they face Clare on March 5, it will be 11 months since Tipp lost a game. A Kilkenny-esque record.

Ref justice?: Johnny Ryan took charge of the Laois-Offaly Division 1B game on Saturday.

Ryan, is a club-mate of Conor Gleeson, who coaches Laois. Ryan also refereed the 2016 Wexford-Offaly qualifier when Gleeson coached Offaly.

By a l l accounts, he handled Saturday’s game well, correctly sending off two Offaly players, but surely there was a conflict of interest?

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